Category Archives: Tactical Concepts

What are the evolving ideals of tactics in maritime and naval affairs.

Strength in Numbers: The Remarkable Potential of (Really) Small Combatants

LT Jimmy Drennan is a Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy. He is the prospective Weapons Officer aboard USS Gettysburg and a Distinguished Graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School’s Systems Engineering Analysis program. 

You are a tactical commander tasked with a mission to seek out and destroy one of the enemy’s premier capital ships in his home waters. You have two potential striking forces at your disposal: a world class surface combatant of your own with a 99% probability of mission success (Ps = 0.99) or a squadron of eight independently operating, missile carrying small combatants – each with a chance of successfully completing the mission no better than a coin flip (Ps = 0.5). Do you go with the almost sure thing and choose to send in your large combatant? As it turns out, the squadron of small combatants has an even higher overall Ps. But let’s assume now that you’ve advanced to operational commander. You might have more concerns than just overall Ps. What are the defensive and logistical requirements for each option? How much fleet investment am I risking with each option? What will it cost to replace the asset(s) if it is lost? What capability does the striking force have after successful enemy action (i.e. resilience)? An analysis of these factors, intentionally designed to disadvantage the small combatants, actually comes out overwhelmingly in their favor over the large combatant. The results verify what naval strategists and tacticians have long known: for certain offensive missions, an independently operating group of even marginally capable platforms can outperform a single large combatant at lower cost and less risk to the mission.

The War at Sea Flotilla: A Test Case

In the Autumn 2012 edition of the Naval War College Review, Captains (U.S. Navy, Retired) Jeff Kline and Wayne Hughes introduce “A War at Sea Strategy” in which they describe a flotilla of small, missile-carrying surface combatants designed to challenge Chinese aggression in East Asian waters. The flotilla ships would utilize largely independent tactics, relying little on networked command and control, to produce a powerful cumulative combat capability.

“What would the flotilla look like? In rough terms, we envision individual small combatants of about six hundred tons carrying six or eight surface-to-surface missiles and depending on soft kill and point defense for survival, aided by offboard manned or unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance and tactical scouting. To paint a picture of possible structures, we contemplate as the smallest element a mutually supporting pair, a squadron to comprise eight vessels, and the entire force to be eight squadrons, of which half would be in East Asian waters. The units costing less than $100 million each, the entire force would require a very small part of the shipbuilding budget (Hughes and Kline, 2012).”

This flotilla concept provides an ideal test case to compare against a world class surface combatant but first we must establish a few key assumptions on which this analysis is based.

Statistical Independence. The math behind this analysis hinges on the idea that the outcome of one small combatant’s engagement has no effect on the others in the squadron. While true statistical independence is nearly impossible to achieve in real world naval operations, the War at Sea Flotilla concept models it closely with independently operating units, the potential for various ship classes, and the inclusion of allied navies which may use different tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). This concept of operations is a major departure from today’s heavily networked forces which generate combat power through the integrated actions of several units. In those forces, the actions of one unit can have profound impact on the effectiveness of another.

Defensive and Logistical Requirements. For the purposes of this analysis, we will assume that the defensive and logistical requirements are roughly equivalent for both the small combatant squadron and the large combatant. Both would require defensive support in warfare areas not directly related to the current mission. Even a multi-mission, blue water combatant would employ inorganic support, such as maritime patrol aircraft or early warning assets, to watch its back while it conducted a focused offensive mission. As for logistics, any surface asset would need an oiler nearby to conduct sustained operations in enemy waters. A nuclear powered aircraft carrier would still require periodic support to replenish its stores of jet fuel. The logistics tail would be shorter for a large combatant than a flotilla, since it carries much of its own maintenance and supply support, but that can be a detriment in a mission involving an exchange of missile salvos. While the structure of defensive and logistical support may differ greatly between the flotilla and the large combatant, one can assume the drain on resources would be about the same for both options. 

Unit Cost. Captains Hughes and Kline estimate the unit cost of the flotilla small combatants at $80 million (Hughes and Kline, 2012). Therefore, a squadron of eight combatants would cost $640 million. The unit cost of the large combatant is assumed to be $1 billion, which is an underestimate for relevant US Navy platforms. The cost estimates in this analysis are intentionally set up to work against the flotilla concept in order to emphasize its potential for savings.

Enemy Capabilities. To further disadvantage the flotilla concept, let’s assume the small combatants are significantly overmatched by the enemy combatant. In a first strike, the enemy combatant is capable of simultaneously targeting six of the eight squadron combatants. Against the large combatant, it is capable of conducting a devastating mission kill in which the ship may not be sunk but the cost to repair it to fully mission capable would be comparable to the unit cost. As a starting argument, let’s assume in either case the enemy can achieve a mission kill with 10% probability (Pmk =0.10) since both striking forces have similar levels of defensive support. You might argue that Pmk should be lower for the large combatant because it possesses superior self defense capabilities; however, you could also argue that the mobile, distributed nature of the small combatant squadron compensates for each ship’s lack of self defense by complicating the enemy’s targeting process. It may be relatively easy for the enemy to target one or two of the small combatants, but it remains a challenge to simultaneously eliminate the entire squadron.

Selecting the Right Striking Force: Analysis Results

Using the generic introductory scenario, we can compare the small combatant squadron to the large combatant in terms of performance, cost, and risk. 

Overall Effectiveness. We are given the overall effectiveness of the large combatant as Ps = 0.99 and the individual effectiveness of the small combatants as Ps,ship = 0.5. To determine the overall effectiveness of the squadron, it is easiest to first estimate the probability that none of the small combatants successfully accomplish their mission. The probability that any one small combatant will not accomplish the mission is,

Since the outcomes of each engagement are estimated as independent of one another, the probability that none of the eight small combatants accomplish the mission is,

The probability that at least one of the small combatants accomplish the mission is the converse of the previous result, or

In other words, the squadron has a 99.6% probability of success vice 99% for the large combatant. This may not seem like much of an improvement, but it is more remarkable when considering the unit cost of each option.

Cost Effectiveness. The unit costs are given as $1 billion for the large combatant and $80 million for the small combatant, so we know that the squadron of eight small combatants is the more affordable option at $640 million. In addition, we have established that the squadron can outperform the large combatant for this particular offensive mission in which the individual squadron ships are actually overmatched by the enemy. The squadron is not only more cost effective than the large combatant; it actually delivers better performance at lower cost. As a commander, would you rather invest $1 billion in striking force that fails 10 times in 1000 attempts, or save $360 million with a striking force that fails only 4 times in 1000 attempts? To put it another way, if you were to invest the same $1 billion in 12 small combatants, you could deliver a striking force that failed only 2 times in 10,000 attempts (Ps = 0.9998).

Resilience after Enemy Action. One way to consider risk is to look at the impact to the mission if the enemy is able to successfully consummate a first attack. We have assumed the enemy is equally capable of attacking the large combatant and the squadron of small combatants. If the enemy combatant achieves a simultaneous mission kill against six of the small combatants, then only two will remain to continue the mission. These two small combatants have a combined 75% probability of successfully completing the mission.  On the other hand, if the enemy successfully conducts a mission kill against the large combatant, the probability of successfully completing the mission is 0% and you lose the other warfare area capabilities that the large combatant could bring to bear in other missions. The additional investment required to provide onboard logistics support is also lost.

Another way to look at this risk is to calculate the expected damage cost of each option in the long run. Assuming the enemy is able to conduct devastating mission kills (in which the repair costs are comparable to the unit cost) a conservative 10% of the time (Pmk = 0.1) for both the large and small combatants, then the expected damage cost for the large combatant is,

Likewise, the expected damage cost for the squadron of small combatants is,

In the long run, the enemy is expected to cause $52M less damage per mission in the case of the small combatants. Even if the enemy were more likely to successfully target six small combatants simultaneously, how much would you as a commander be willing to pay for 75% follow-on capability vice 0%?

Less Communications, Less Cost, More Combat Power: Analysis Insights

The results of this analysis seem to indicate that the squadron of small combatants is an obvious choice for naval missions involving direct action against the enemy fleet. Yet the scenario described is quite generic and says nothing about the actual TTPs and systems the squadron will utilize in prosecuting the enemy. How can such a generic scenario really prove anything about the effectiveness of small combatants? The key is that two fundamental principles underlie this analysis and can be applied in much broader terms.

First, independently operating, redundant, and at least marginally capable units will greatly increase any system’s overall effectiveness, primarily because unit faults and errors are not permitted to propagate through the system as they would in net centric warfare (e.g. flawed group tactics or a false link track). For surface combatants, an individual effectiveness of 50% is sufficient to affordably produce a formidable striking force. For less expensive systems, that number may be even less. Ultimately, this kind of system is so effective because it is highly unlikely that none of the individual units will successfully complete the mission.

The second principle that contributes to the appeal of the small combatant squadron is that the price of military systems increases exponentially as you attempt to improve individual unit performance closer and closer to perfection. Most of our warships today are designed well past the “knee” in the cost curve. Small combatants can be built with marginal capability at (relatively) very low cost. One new concept illustrates how less capable ships can affordably produce equivalent performance as more capable ones in certain situations. In his 2009 essay, “Buy Fords, Not Ferraris” Captain (U.S. Navy) Henry Hendrix proposes Influence Squadrons, composed of light amphibious ships, large combatants, littoral combat ships (LCS), and small combatants, to alleviate the need for some Carrier Strike Groups – with a smaller price tag (Hendrix, 2009). The purpose of the War at Sea Flotilla, however, is not to replace current fleet assets but to fill a vital niche not now covered to fight a war at sea in littoral waters. Therefore the cost must be small. Captains Hughes and Kline suggest the cost of maintaining a fleet of 64 flotilla ships, steady state, should be less than 3 or 4% of the shipbuilding budget (Hughes and Kline, 2012).

Think Small: Analysis Conclusion and Recommendations

One look at the writings of Sir Julian Corbett or Captain Hughes’ Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat will show the reader that the benefits of small combatants in certain aspects of naval warfare are not a new discovery. In fact, this analysis may seem like the kind of thinking that led to the development of LCS, which was, after all, born out of wargaming and analysis that advocated for small combatants (Johnson and Long, 2007). The LCS program is not, however, a realization of the principles discussed in this analysis. Both Freedom and Independence class LCS are large multi-mission warships (albeit one at a time) in which mission packages cost a premium to achieve very high probabilities of success. The War at Sea Flotilla, if constructed as Captains Hughes and Kline recommend, would exemplify the advantages of independently operating small combatants.

None of this is meant to condemn LCS or any other ship class for that matter. Every ship in the US fleet, along with the distributed networks that multiply its combat power, has an important role in the mission of winning the nation’s wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas. The purpose here is to provide an analytical basis for including independently operating squadrons of small combatants in the discussion for future force structure. For targeted offensive missions at sea, concepts such as the War at Sea Flotilla can provide higher performance than large combatants at lower cost and with greater resilience to enemy action. In today’s fiscal reality and tomorrow’s projected operational environment, that is a combination Navy leaders should not ignore.

LT Jimmy Drennan is a Surface Warfare Officer. He is the prospective Weapons Officer aboard USS Gettysburg and a Distinguished Graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School’s Systems Engineering Analysis program. 

Laser Weapons and Naval Warfare: An Introduction

By Paul Bragulla

To date, the story of laser weapons has been one of great promise but slow delivery. However, modern developments in the fields of materials science, optics, and computer technology are making it increasingly likely that they will reach operational status in the next decade. This realization has prompted laser weapon-development programs around the world, including Germany and China.

Progress in the development of solid state lasers (SSLs) has been especially rapid. In January 2013, Rheinmetall – a German corporation – demonstrated a 50 kW prototype capable of anti-drone and counter-rocket, artillery, and mortar (C-RAM) functions. Rheinmetall also has plans for a technology demonstrator in the 60 kW range next year and has indicated they believe there are no major technical barriers to the construction of a 100 kW device1. According to a Congressional Research Service report, 100 kW is the beginning power range at which a laser becomes an effective C-RAM battery, or can defeat subsonic anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and manned aircraft2.

Due to the great power, cooling, and volume capacity of surface warships it has been suggested that, of all the services, the U.S. Navy is the ideal “first adopter” of high-energy laser weapons in the 100+ kW range3. This implies that early laser weapons of other nations may also see their first operational use on warships. Additionally, fitting lasers to warships may counteract the offensive-defensive imbalance that has developed in the last 50 years whereby the cost of anti-ship weapons has declined while the cost of their respective countermeasures has remained high. A laser pulse capable of disabling an ASCM may cost a few dollars in comparison to the $800,000 price of a Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM). Laser weapons are also touted as simplifying logistical requirements and allowing longer time on station, as they do not require ammunition reloads.4

There has been abundant analysis of the technical characteristics of various potential laser weapon systems and their possible effects on various targets, although much more must be done before these systems can take their place alongside proven technologies. Here, however, I would like to focus on the larger-scale impact laser weapons may exert on the development of naval warfare in the 21st century. How will they affect the balance of measure and countermeasure? How might state and non-state actors respond to the development of weapons which render unfavorable the currently favorable (to them) cost-benefit ratio of their anti-ship weapons to our defenses?

I must make many assumptions, but I will do my best to ensure that these are both explicit and reasonable. My first general assumption is that within the next decade, SSLs with beam powers of up to 500 kW will be developed5. Such lasers would be able to engage UAVs, subsonic ASCMs, artillery rockets and shells, and manned aircraft. It has been estimated that the Flight III Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers (DDGs) will have the excess power and cooling capacity to support up to a 200 kW SSL , which would be capable of all of the above with the exception of engaging manned aircraft.

Lasers as counter-measure
                   Lasers as counter-measure

The possibility exists of outfitting other ship classes, such as the Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers and Zumwalt-class DDGs, with greater power-requirement weapons and the Navy has expressed an interest in equipping them with free-electron lasers (FELs). I assume that FELs with up to 1 MW of beam power will prove practicable within 20 years. Compared to SSLs, installing these brings far larger weight as well as radiation shielding considerations and so are likely to be fitted to specialized laser-ships, possibly select Zumwalts built with the air/missile defense role in mind. Alternatively, SSL technology may advance in ways that make multiple SSLs firing together more economical than fewer, larger FELs.

What follows from these assumptions? First, it is very unlikely that laser weapons will largely replace missiles or guns in the world’s naval arsenal. Instead they will add more arrows, with unique advantages and limitations, to the naval commander’s quiver. There are some things, like C-RAM and anti-UAV, which are within the capabilities of even the relatively lower power lasers that can be mounted on the Flight III Arleigh Burkes. The advantages of such a laser-based Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) are magnified by the fact that an opportunistic attack by means of rockets, artillery, or mortars against an American ship in a foreign port or naval choke point – whether by state or non-state actor – is a far likelier near-term danger than an attack on the high-seas by supersonic ASCMs. Compared to an expensive interceptor missile or collateral-damage-causing gun-based CIWS, the superiority of using a few dollars’ worth of electrical power to destroy an incoming threat is apparent. Such a system adds another layer to warship armaments, freeing missiles and guns to concentrate on targets more suited to their particular capabilities.

However, to fully appreciate the implications of this technology we must build a conceptual framework that integrates lasers with extant weapons systems. The two primary types of weapons systems currently available to the world’s navies are guns and missiles. The distinguishing features of gun-type weapons systems are that they employ an unguided projectile which lacks an on-board propulsion system, while those of missile-based systems are that they use a guided projectile which is propelled to the target by an on-board propulsion system. Like all weapons, both seek to disrupt the functions of a target by depositing energy within it.

The traditional weapon spectrum
The traditional weapon spectrum

If we consider these two types further we see that they can be viewed as points along a spectrum, upon which there are many possibilities. For instance, rocket-assisted artillery shells and guided artillery shells have characteristics of both guns and missiles; they mix the advantages and limitations of the two extremes.

The advent of lasers and other Directed-Energy Weapons (DEW) adds a third vertex to our diagram, and expands the spectrum of possibilities into a two-dimensional field.

The new playing field
The new playing field

Lasers excel at destroying lightly-armored targets which move or maneuver rapidly within line of sight (LOS) of the weapon. Thus, they complement rather than replace the other two approaches. Missiles and guns are better used to engage non-LOS targets, which may be slower moving and more heavily protected, or under meteorological conditions unfavorable to lasers.

Another use of this diagram is to explore the possibilities for new weapons systems that may or may not currently exist. Weapons along the gun-missile edge have been identified, but what of the other two? Are there possible weapons which combine aspects of all three vertices, and so fall in the space between the edges? Boeing’s new Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile (CHAMP)6 is a cruise missile that carries a microwave DEW capable of disabling electronics near its flight path, and so would seem to occupy a spot along the Missile-DEW edge. This space is also shared by various “bomb-pumped” DEW concepts that use the energy of a nuclear initiation to excite an X-ray lasing medium, as in Project Excalibur, or generate a plasma jet like the “casaba howitzer” developed through Project Orion.

The introduction of powerful laser weapons will likely cause a tumult in weapons development as both the particular abilities of various laser configurations are tested and countermeasures developed. In addition to armoring conventional missile designs, is there the possibility of developing a new type of gun-missile hybrid to exploit the particular weaknesses of laser weapons? An ASCM variant which, from beyond LOS, launches one or more solid depleted uranium or tungsten penetrator darts at high-supersonic velocity towards a target ship might fit this role. Such a penetrator would be more difficult for a laser to deflect or destroy than any missile, though a conventional interceptor might find it less challenging.

In following segments, I will explore more aspects of the possible development of laser weapons and their countermeasures. What scenarios emerge from a future in which high-energy FELs advance faster, or slower, than expected? What strategies, technological and otherwise, might various potential opponents of the U.S. Navy take to counter such weapons? What does a scenario in which MW-range laser weapons and railguns advance rapidly mean for the future of missiles and aero-naval warfare as a whole? We cannot know what is to come until we experience it, but with careful forethought we may prepare the conceptual foundation for rapid and effective responses to future challenges.

Paul W. Bragulla is the recent cofounder of Prokalkeo, an emerging technology consulting company headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area. He holds a BS in Physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and is an enthusiastic scholar of military affairs. His scientific experience is primarily in the fields of high-energy lasers and aerospace technology.

1. Peter Murray, German Military Laser Destroys Targets Over 1Km Away.
2. Ronald O’Rourke collects the results of several studies on laser effectiveness into a single table in Navy Shipboard Lasers for Surface, Air, and Missile Defense: Background and Issues for Congress (Congressional Research Service, 2013), table A-1, 36.
3. Mark Gunziger and Chris Dougherty specifically suggest high energy SSLs as the technology of interest in their Changing the Game: The Promise of Directed Energy Weapons (Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2012), but point out that the Navy is also strongly focused on Free-Electron Lasers (FELs) which promise multi-megawatt outputs suitable for the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) role as well as the ability to tailor the frequency of their output to local meteorological conditions.
4. The notable exceptions to this rule are chemical lasers, which utilize the energy of a chemical reaction to generate their beams. They are also the only lasers currently capable of producing megawatt-range outputs.
5. Changing the Game: The Promise of Directed Energy Weapons, 25.
6. Randy Jackson, CHAMP – Lights Out.

Featured Image: Laser weapon prototype (U.S. Navy)

Who Defeated the Somali Pirates? Another Look

 

Heading home after another long day at work.
                                         Heading home after a long day at the office.

As observers thankfully have noted, piracy off the coast of Somalia dropped significantly over 2012.  As Mark Munson points out, a variety of factors contributed to this decline.  These included an increase in armed guards aboard commercial vessels, continued international naval patrols in the region, attacks by some of those international naval forces on pirate havens, and operations by the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF).  

Yet it would be too easy to write off piracy in the area as a dead issue.  Despite some glaring examples to the contrary, pirates are not uniformly stupid, as demonstrated by the $160 million they made in ransom in a single year.  They are capable of adapting to change in their maritime operating environment.  For example, when the world’s navies began patrolling the area, pirates attempted to disguise themselves as innocent fishermen.  International naval forces reacted by conducting more thorough searches and seizures of suspected pirates, who in turn adapted by using motherships to expand their area of operations beyond the patrol areas.  Despite increasing the transaction costs for both the pirates and international naval forces involved in this conflict, this “tit-for-tat” process did not slow or halt the increase in piracy.

Several analysts believe that the increase in armed private security guards aboard commercial ships in the region played a key role in reducing piracy; at least 40% of commercial vessels in the region had armed guards aboard at the beginning of 2012.  Although armed guards did in fact contribute to the drop in piracy, their dampening effect merely shifted the onus back to the pirates to continue measure/counter-measure evolution.  There’s little to stop them from adapting to this tactical change as they adapted to those that came before, for instance by using more personnel to overwhelm ship defenses, or mounting a stabilized light machine gun to deliver greater and more accurate fire against ships.  Rather, it’s two other factors that have been the main cause of the drop in piracy in Somalia:  attacks on pirate safe havens from the offshore EU task force and more operations by a better trained PMPF. 

 Piracy Mar 2011

In May 2012, EU forces attacked the pirate safe haven Haradhere, one of the largest pirate bases in one of Somalia’s notoriously ungovernable regions.  This was the start of the EU’s counter-piracy targeting pirate safe havens with surgical and extremely precise strikes.  It was also a key development in the region as the first strike ashore by any patrolling international naval forces (with the exception of a handful of hostage rescue missions).  By targeting the pirates at their center of gravity, EU forces were able to damage their logistics and raise the cost of doing business, which in turn disrupted their operations. 

However, these strikes have two main shortfalls.  First, they are difficult to conduct at a high tempo because of the time it takes to locate the strongholds, plan the strikes, and carry them out while ensuring minimum collateral damage; being based afloat only lengthens the timeline.  Second, the surgical requirements for the strikes allow pirates to react by surrounding themselves with even more civilians, making the strikes all the more difficult.    

Unlike the EU’s strikes, the PMPF attacks pirate strongholds from land.  Trained initially by Saracen International/Sterling Corporate Services (which was led by Australian Lafras Luitingh, an experienced intelligence officer with from South Africa), the PMPF are arguably one of the most well-trained paramilitary forces north of Mogadishu.  Although they are still categorized as a backwater paramilitary force, Sterling Corporate Services created this simple force that outclasses its pirate adversaries (however due to behind-the-scenes political moves it is unclear who, if anyone, now trains them).  Consequentially, the PMPF has been able to patrol the littorals in Puntland and attack pirate bases.  Although the PMPF lacks the firepower of the EU task force, they are able to permanently station themselves in areas prone to piracy and use their knowledge of the area to recognize and pursue pirates.  Nevertheless, the PMPF’s main weakness is whether they have the capacity to sustain themselves and their capabilities without foreign funding and guidance from their former trainers. 

Applying These Lessons Elsewhere

The fight to stop piracy in Somalia is not over but lessons learned can be applied to other areas, such as the Gulf of Guinea, where piracy is on the rise.  These lessons are that changing the pirate’s operating environment alone will not eliminate piracy, as the pirates can and will adapt accordingly.  Instead, the problem must be solved on shore by going after the pirate center of gravity—their strongholds—to effectively disrupt their operations.  Although offshore attacks against these strongholds can yield some results, developing a disciplined local paramilitary force with greater capabilities than the pirates will disrupt their operations even more.  Creating such a force in a weak or failed state is difficult and is fraught with the danger of backfiring, but as demonstrated by the PMPF, it is not impossible.  Will the U.S. Navy and other international maritime forces pursue these proactive options in future areas where piracy becomes a problem?  Or will costly international task forces reactively patrolling offshore remain the norm?

Bret is a student at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.  The views expressed are solely those of the author.

Swarms at Sea and Out-swarming the Swarms?

The Swarming Synchronized Speedboats of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy Revue

This week Foreign Policy posted a new article by Navy Postgraduate School professor John Arquilla, in which he discusses the how “swarm” tactics employed by the Russians caused the failure of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion.

Arquilla is a prolific author who regularly writes about swarms and “net-centric” operations.  In the above piece he cites successful maritime employment of swarm tactics such as German submarine “wolf-packs” in the Second World War and the Sri Lankan Navy’s fight against maritime elements of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or “Tamil Tigers”) earlier this decade.

It is unclear how Arquilla’s example of the Russian defeat of Napoleon is applicable to a broad range of operations at sea, however.  When swarms are discussed in terms of maritime operations, it is generally in the context of an asymmetric fight within a constrained body of water, such as Iranian plans to use swarms of small boats or the Chinese Type 22 Houbei fast attack craft.  Napoleon’s Grand Armee was vulnerable to Russian swarm attacks on the march back from Moscow because of its extended supply lines.  In contrast, one of the primary advantages of sea power is that it provides the space for strategic maneuver and the ability to avoid such exposure to swarms.  Swarms and Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) weapons and tactics could still threaten naval forces within specific areas in which the ability to maneuver is restricted, or are within the range of weapons on land, but they do not take away one of the main advantages of sea power, the ability for a state to choose where to best deploy its forces.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence Officer and currently serves on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence and onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.