Sea Control 239 – Things Done by Halves with Dr. BJ Armstrong

By Walker Mills

Dr. BJ Armstrong, a professor of naval history at the United States Naval Academy, joins the program to discuss his recent article, “Things Done By Halves: Observations from America’s First Great Power Competition,” in the Naval War College Review. He also discusses his recent book Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare, and the Early American Navy. The wide-ranging conversation covers early U.S. Naval history, privateering, gray zone warfare, Great Power Friction, and movies about the Age of Sail.

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1. 21st Century Mahan: Sound Conclusions for the Modern Era, by BJ Armstrong, Naval Institute Press, 2013.
2. 21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education and Leadership for the Modern Era, by BJ Armstrong, Naval Institute Press, 2015.
3. Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare, and the Early American Navy, by BJ Armstrong, Oklahoma University Press, 2019.
4. “Things Done By Halves: Observations from America’s First Great Power Competition,” by BJ Armstrong, Naval War College Review, Vol. 73, No. 4, 2020.
5. “Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy,” Department of Defense, 2018.
6. Six Frigates: The Epic Story of the Founding of the U.S. Navy, by Ian Toll, W.W. Norton & Company, 2008.
7. Stoddert’s War: Naval Operations During the  Quasi-War with France, 1798-1801, by Michael Palmer, Naval Institute Press, 2000.
8. On the Wide Seas: The US Navy in the Jacksonian Era, by Claude Berube, University of Alabama Press, 2021 (forthcoming).
9. Shaping a Maritime Empire: The Commercial and Diplomatic Role of the American Navy, 1829-1861, by John Schroeder, Praeger, 1985.
10. “A Hero,” by BJ Armstrong, Naval History Magazine, February 2021.

Walker Mills is Co-Host of the Sea Control podcast. Contact the podcast team at

Conventional Deterrence and the US Navy: Why the Future Needs to Happen Now Pt. I

By Adam Taylor

Recent remarks by Admiral Phil Davidson, Commander of the Indo-Pacific Command (INDO-PACOM), highlights one of the most difficult challenges confronting US naval forces in the Asia-Pacific—America’s conventional deterrence posture in the region. He noted “the greatest danger for the United States in this competition [with China] is the erosion of conventional deterrence. Absent a convincing deterrent, the People’s Republic of China will be emboldened to take action to undermine the rules-based international order.” This statement deserves further consideration among naval observers given its assumptions about the nature of conventional deterrence, possible ramifications on the composition and disposition of US forces in the region, and implications for the Navy’s future force design. An assessment of the Navy’s recent “Battle Force 2045” vision against the utility of its traditional contributions to conventional deterrence and the implications associated with differing US and Chinese ideas about deterrence unfortunately demonstrates that the service’s future force design remains ill-equipped to address the deterrence deficit confronting the US.

Deterrence represents one form of coercive diplomacy, which the DoD defines as the “prevention of action by the existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counteraction and/or belief that the cost of action outweighs the perceived benefits.” Compellence constitutes a different form of coercive diplomacy, representing the “use of threatened force, including the limited use of actual force to back up the threat, to induce an adversary to behave differently than it otherwise would.” States can employ these coercive approaches through various instruments of power in their pursuit of national interests.

Strategies of deterrence and compellence differ in their relationships to the prevailing status quo : Deterrence seeks to preserve the status quo, while compellent policies seek to alter it. Other important differences between both strategies include the passage of time and initiator of action. Deterrence strategies passively wait for the object of the deterrent strategy to initiate action, while compellence requires continuous and active efforts by the coercing state.

As a status quo great power, America’s deterrence paradigm informs the Navy’s contributions to the nation’s conventional deterrence posture. Three of its nine functional contributions to the joint force directly contribute to conventional deterrence posture:

  1. Conduct offensive and defensive operations associated with the maritime domain including achieving and maintaining sea control, to include subsurface, surface, land, air, space, and cyberspace;
  2. Provide power projection through sea-based global strike, to include nuclear and conventional capabilities; interdiction and interception capabilities; maritime and/or littoral fires to include naval surface fires; and close air support for ground forces;
  3. Establish, maintain, and defend sea bases in support of naval, amphibious, land, air, or other joint operations as directed.

The chart below from a Center for Naval Analyses report illustrates how the Navy’s deterrent contributions fit into the broader joint force deterrent posture.

Deterrence: Total Force View

The Navy’s ability to “loiter” and remain minimally intrusive highlights why the service is best suited to provide mobile, prompt, and flexible conventional deterrent forces that can sustainably project power without a footprint. The resources needed to deploy and sustain land forces may effectively signal a state’s deterrent commitment, but require time to generate and are relatively less mobile within a theater of operations. Conversely, air power can provide prompt response and minimally intrusive capabilities, but is limited by platforms’ relatively short time on station compared to naval assets. The Navy mitigates these issues through a variety of means, as noted in the same report:

“When maritime power is used, countries can keep from appearing to have an overly close relationship with the United States that might spark new, or enflame ongoing, socio-cultural tensions and violence, while at the same time enjoying the security benefits of US forces in the area vis-à-vis regional adversaries. In fact, if there is a continuing trend in which countries want completely new US security commitments and/or strengthened assurances of existing guarantees, but at the same time do not want to host US forces on their soil, maritime power may increasingly become the primary military instrument used to simultaneously assure allies and deter adversaries.”

Naval operations can simultaneously address the need for commitment without the costs associated with permanent military installations because they do not need basing or overflight rights like land or air forces and can maintain either an overt or “over the horizon” presence. These qualities led Oliver Cromwell to famously declare that a “man-o-war is the best ambassador.” They also demonstrate how naval assets can credibly communicate the commitment needed to deter without incurring political costs or unnecessarily antagonizing potential belligerents.

These qualities ensure the Navy remains a crucial element of America’s deterrence posture in the Asia-Pacific given the contestable nature of conventional deterrence. Prompt denial mitigates opportunistic aggression by limiting the likelihood of quick and low-cost victory. The Navy’s combination of air, sea, and land assets ensures the service has the organic ability to counter aggression. Similarly, the service’s ability to loiter in zones of contention for extended periods of time means the Navy can demonstrate the political resolve and commitment needed to convince potential belligerents to abandon hostile courses of action – but only if those potential belligerents find the deployed forces to be credible.

China, however, pursues a conventional deterrence strategy at odds with America’s deterrence paradigm. The PRC defines deterrence as “the display of military power or the threat of use of military power in order to compel an opponent to submit.” This definition encompasses both dissuasion and coercion in a single concept. Chinese military writing emphasizes that deterrence has two important functions: “one is to dissuade the opponent from doing something through deterrence, the other is to persuade the opponent what ought to be done through deterrence, and both demand the opponent submit to the deterrer’s volition.” Beijing’s definition of deterrence also suggests it views deterrence as a way to achieve a desired political outcome. Deterrence represents a means to a specific end. American discussions tend to characterize deterrence as a goal. INDOPACOM’s mission to field a “combat credible deterrence strategy…” highlights this distinction.

American versus Chinese Views of Deterrence

Strategy Definition Temporal Constraint Object of Force Characteristics
American Deterrence Dissuade an opponent from taking an unwelcome action by threatening the use of force. Occurs during peace time. Passively influence enemy’s intentions to prevent future challenge to status quo. Status quo posturing can be viewed as first strike preparations.
Chinese Deterrence Dissuade or coerce an opponent through the display of military power or threatening the use of force in order to compel an opponent to submit. Occurs during peace and war time. Requires object of deterrence to preference Chinese political interests at object’s expense. Multi-domain; preemptive; contests disputed sovereignty claims; crisis amenable.

The PLA pursues deterrence through a strategy of “forward defense.” This strategy calls for China “pushing the first line away from China’s borders and coasts to ensure that combat occurs beyond China’s homeland territory, not on or within it…China’s borders and coasts are now viewed as interior lines in a conflict, not exterior ones.” China incorporates a variety of conventional, space, information capabilities, economic, and diplomatic means into its deterrence policy tool bag. All of these measures combine to aide Beijing’s deterrence policy which aims to compel an aggressor to abandon offensive intentions or cause a defender to conclude the cost of resistance remains too high. The offensive nature of Chinese deterrence means Beijing would consider preemptive action during periods of tension should the PRC conclude an aggressor has decided to violate China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Beijing’s use of force in its deterrence strategy also highlights the value it places on crisis and tension. While American policy makers might consider a crisis that challenges the status quo a possible point of deterrence failure, Chinese leadership views crisis as an avenue to achieve favorable political outcomes. A crisis or increase in tension that might not normally exist under the status quo allows the PRC to probe an adversary’s intentions, foment friction among allies, weaken an opponent’s resolve, or decrease the domestic political support for an adversary’s policies.

The divergence in deterrence theory and practice between both nations has important implications for the Navy’s future force design. China’s impressive anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities combined with a deterrence strategy that favors crisis escalation and encroachment on other nations’ sovereignty challenges the Navy’s ability to effectively deter. The Navy can no longer assume that its ships’ ability to loiter in zones of contention will deter an increasingly capable Chinese military from taking unwanted action. Navy leadership also must reconsider if the fleet’s current composition and posture adequately conveys America’s daily commitment to its allies or provides a realistic deterrent against belligerent Chinese behavior short of war. Aircraft carriers, high-tech destroyers, and attack submarines do an excellent job demonstrating the Navy’s capabilities should conventional war occur, but do not necessarily represent the best choice when dealing with the daily and persistent malign behavior that China employs. These platforms cost a lot to operate and maintain which means the Navy cannot endlessly keep them at sea in contested areas. Furthermore, it likely strains Chinese credulity to believe that the US would employ its qualitatively superior platforms to respond to every escalatory action Beijing engages in against American partners. Washington would look overreactive and all too willing to consistently let its ships and sailors operate in a costly A2/AD environment.

All of these issues raise important questions about the Navy’s ability to deter Chinese aggression, manage escalation, and credibly prevail in a great power conflict. The future fleet must possess the ability to decisively win a conventional conflict while also maintaining the capability needed to deter aggression short of war. Beijing’s deterrence paradigm requires a navy that can compete with China across the entire spectrum of operations. Unfortunately, the Navy’s recently released “Battle Force 2045” concept falls short of these requirements with its over investment in surface combatants, under investment in uncrewed ships, and unrealistic assumptions about defense budgets.  A more thorough review of the Navy’s ability to respond to conventional aggression against Taiwan will demonstrate the service’s current shortcomings and the way ahead for a more sustainable and effective force design.

Adam Taylor recently separated from the Marine Corps where he served four years as an air support control officer and is now in the Individual Ready Reserve. He currently works as a fellow in Congress and received his M.A. in international relations from American University’s School of International Service. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect any institutional position of the Marine Corps, Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or Member of Congress.

Featured Image: INDIAN OCEAN (March 20, 2021) Electronics Technician 2nd Class Ryan Walsh, from Monroe, N.Y., watches the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) from the flight deck of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Russell (DDG 59) March 20, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Wade Costin)

Sea Control 238 – Equipping the 21st Century Marine Corps with Joslyn Fleming & Dr. Jonathan Wong

By Jon Frerichs

Joslyn Fleming and Dr. Jonathan Wong join the podcast to discuss their report published by RAND entitled “Equipping the 21st Century Marine Corps: Alternative Equipping Strategies for Task Organized Units.” The group discusses the problem they were tasked to solve and the alternative equipping strategies that emerged – an area that remains underexplored and critical to the success of the future naval force. 

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1. “Equipping the 21st Century Marine Corps: Alternative Equipping Strategies for Task Organized Units,” by Joslyn Fleming, Dr. Jonathan Wong, et al, RAND, 2021.

Jon Frerichs is Co-Host of the Sea Control podcast. Contact the podcast team at

Project Trident Call for Articles: The Law of Naval Warfare

By James Kraska

Submissions Due: May 17, 2021
Week Dates: June 7-11, 2021

Article Length: 1000-3000 words
Submit to:

The Stockton Center for International Law (SCIL) at the U.S. Naval War College is partnering with CIMSEC to launch the latest Call for Articles of Project Trident to solicit writing on the law of naval warfare and its evolving impact on the future of international maritime security. SCIL is a leading research institute for the study of international law and military operations that produces original analysis for national decision-makers, senior military leaders, scholars, and legal practitioners throughout the world in order to better grasp the role international law plays in naval, joint, and combined operations. The Stockton Center also publishes International Law Studies, the oldest journal of international law in the United States.

The threat of armed conflict at sea is ever-present. Emerging naval technology, new operational, force employment, and warfighting concepts, and contending interests in the oceans risk undermining maritime security. In peacetime, the majority of seafaring States abide by the law of the sea most of the time, either as a matter of customary international law or as a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other agreements. During armed conflict, states apply the law of naval warfare. Yet much of the law in this regard was developed at the Hague Conference in 1907 and by state practice during the world wars. There has been no new codification of the law of naval warfare since Geneva Convention II in 1949. In the event of armed conflict at sea today, states must apply these legacy rules to new situations, making their application and legal outcome uncertain. Furthermore, current naval forces, maritime law enforcement organizations, and state-sponsored maritime militia promote different approaches to the principles and norms of customary law.

New technology continues to transform the maritime domain. The inherently interconnected nature of cybersecurity and the increased risk that comes with autonomous unmanned platforms could pose legal challenges in conflict. Gray-zone operations just below the threshold of declared armed conflict are deliberately taking advantage of legal ambiguities, and the definition of a combatant, or hostile act or intent, is becoming more and more blurred. Maritime militia, coast guard vessels, armed merchantmen, and civilian-crewed military logistics vessels can all present legal complications in a naval warfare context. With respect to tactics and operations, warships may feel compelled to blend with civilian traffic to decrease their detectability and take advantage of the element of surprise. On the strategic level, nations may choose to employ blockades, minefields, and other measures that present legal challenges.

In the future, will today’s definition of armed conflict at sea remain relevant? Who will be considered belligerents, and who (or what) will be considered valid targets? What activities will constitute an attack? International law and its application must evolve to reflect the changing realities of naval warfare with the emergence of new technologies and gray-zone activities.

Authors are invited to write on these topics and more as we look to understand the interplay between evolving laws surrounding naval warfare and the future of international maritime security. Submissions will be jointly reviewed and approved by CIMSEC and SCIL, and will be reviewed for quality of writing, analysis, and legal rigor.

Send all submissions to

James Kraska is Chair and Charles H. Stockton Professor of International Maritime Law in the Stockton Center for International Law at the Naval War College and Visiting Professor of Law and John Harvey Gregory Lecturer on World Organization at Harvard Law School. He has served as Visiting Professor of Law at the College of Law, University of the Philippines and Visiting Professor of Law at Gujarat National Law University. He previously was Mary Derrickson McCurdy Visiting Scholar at Duke University Marine Laboratory and Chief of Naval Research Fellow at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He has published numerous books and scholarly articles and is Editor-in-Chief of International Law Studies and the treatise, Benedict on Admiralty: International Maritime Law. He is also a Permanent Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Professor Kraska served as a U.S. Navy officer and lawyer, with multiple tours of duty in Japan and the Pentagon. 

The views presented do not necessarily reflect the views of the Stockton Center for International Law, the U.S. Naval War College, or the Department of Defense.

Featured Image: The 5-inch gun aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) fires during a live-fire gunnery exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeremy Graham)

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.