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Crafting Naval Strategy, Pt. 3

The following was originally published by the Leidos Chair of Future Warfare Studies of the Naval War College under the title Crafting Naval Strategy: Observations and Recommendations for the Development of Future Strategies. Read it in its original form here. It is republished here with permission and several excerpts will be featured.

Read Part One, Part Two.

By Bruce Stubbs

Observation 33

Obviously, the crafting of strategy takes time. What may not be obvious is that the timing of issuing a strategy plays a major role in its overall effectiveness, let alone its effective dissemination. Similar to policies issued in the final months of a lame-duck presidency, those strategy documents issued shortly before a change of Navy or DoD leadership rarely have significant impact or lasting effect.

Strategy documents ultimately reflect the desired policies of the chief strategist (the CNO); thus their implementation is dependent on the tenure of the strategist, or on the willingness of his successor to maintain the same strategy without significant revision. In a competitive environment in which hyperbole-laced debates over resources take place, the thirst for a “new” strategy with new, “innovative” terminology and arguments is always present. Leaders feel pressure to sign off on their own strategy documents. This creates a churn in which strategies appear credible only as long as the chief strategist/leader remains in that position. Strategies issued early in the leader’s tenure have a chance to gain effect, whereas those issued late in the tour indeed are viewed as lame ducks.

In recent years, continuity has become very artificial. Instead of attempting to replace an existing official strategy document, SECNAVs and CNOs have issued guidance papers and directives that reinterpret or supersede some part of the existing strategy.

Often this has been done for the sake of speed and to avoid a laborious crafting of strategy. Sometimes, however, it is done to avoid public debate about or external involvement in any obvious shift in Navy strategy.

Meanwhile, new strategies from higher authorities may or may not be issued on any firm schedule. Such schedules may exist, particularly as concerns joint documents, but often they are overtaken by events. Congress has put in place (legal) time requirements for the issuance of the president’s National Security Strategy, but recent administrations have ignored these time requirements without consequence. Presumably, Navy strategies should incorporate all the guidance from the NSS, the SECDEF’s National Defense Strategy, and the CJCS’s National Military Strategy, but rarely do they align in sequence or terminology. Crafters of strategy must be wary of timing, but there are no hard-and-fast answers except that any strategy issued late in a CNO’s term is unlikely to have any significant effect.

Observation 35

Most defense debates are not about strategy, but instead about the adoption of new capabilities—of which emerging technologies have become a driving factor. This has given many of the debaters the impression that the emergence of new technologies automatically overturns existing strategies and that technological development and acquisition is an effective strategy in itself. This impression violates the very definition and theory of strategy, because the conflation of technology and capabilities with strategy ensures that the ends are defined by the means. As the old saying goes, “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Driving a nail into the wrong place at the wrong time simply because the hammer exists—even if it is the most technologically advanced hammer ever conceived—is not good strategy. In fact, it is not strategy at all.

Observation 36

The CJCS is the principal military adviser to the president, SECDEF, and NSC. All Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) members have a responsibility to provide advice or opinions, when requested or on their own initiative, via the CJCS, to the president, SECDEF, and NSC. Therefore, in addition to the CNO’s Title 10 responsibility to develop the Navy, he has a responsibility to describe to the JCS how the Navy will be employed. This requires two distinct strategies, one to develop the force and the other to employ the force. The two strategies require different components.

Images source: DoD Imagery Library.

The graphic above conveys an important point illustrated by the famous 1980s Maritime Strategy and the equally famous objective to reach a 600-ship Navy. The former was a Navy force-employment strategy with a central idea of offensively attacking the Soviets’ Barents Sea bastions to deprive them of a maritime sanctuary, while the latter was a Navy force-development strategy to build a Navy that could deter and, if necessary, defeat the Soviets. Depending on the strategy, the forces and capabilities are either the means or the ends.

Note that, in this post-Goldwater-Nichols era, the force-employment component is not a strategy to fight. LOEs, phasing, and other tools for fighting are not best addressed in a service capstone strategy. Today and into the future, the Navy mans, organizes, trains, and equips its future force for the fight, but does not fight by itself. Therefore the force-employment-strategy component is more an expression of how the Navy will fight and how a conflict may unfold. This allows the OPNAV staff to pursue solutions for maintaining the current force and building the future force.

Observation 37

Graphic source: Justturnright, “Economics for Dummies . . . and Liberals,” Two Heads Are Better than One (blog), 29 December 2012, Used by permission.

Your strategy must be capable of informing resource allocation for force development. Navy budget programmers considered the 2007 Cooperative Strategy to be “not useful” for articulating requirements and defending budgets; the 2015 version of this strategy (CS21R) likewise was not considered particularly useful. Indeed, CNO Jonathan Greenert (2011–15) did not construct three of his annual posture statements for Congress around this strategy.

While there is no hard-and-fast rule for how to design a strategy document so that it informs resource allocation, starting the crafting of a strategy without a firm recognition that part of its purpose is to give guidance to budget programmers is a mistake. 

Observation 38

Graphic source: DreamsTime Free Images. Used by permission.

Drafting a strategy is only a first step, albeit a difficult one. The crafter needs to develop the strategy with implementation in mind. Here is how to institutionalize strategy:

• Begin by inserting high-level implementation taskers into the body of a Navy strategy to signal that the strategy is real, relevant, and significant—not to be ignored.
• Produce an implementation plan that specifies the processes, activities, and objectives required to achieve the ends of a Navy strategy.
• Translate the ends of a Navy strategy into measurable implementation objectives
linked to DCNO and subordinate organizational goals.
• Assign owners to each objective and initiative, for clear responsibilities and accountability.
• Conduct periodic progress reviews of implementation to monitor execution.
• Oversee execution by active senior leadership and drive implementation across the Navy by dedicated operational planning teams.
• Communicate strategy repeatedly to explain its logic and achieve buy-in.

Leaders habitually underestimate the challenge of implementing strategy. Follow-up procedures are needed to ascertain whether implementation is being carried out effectively. The follow-up should include the actions listed below:

• Conducting periodic progress reviews of implementation to determine whether the strategy is relevant to the Navy’s purpose. Since the Navy operates in a very dynamic environment, the reviews are essential to know whether the strategy is meeting the Navy’s needs.
• Assigning objectives and initiatives to individual “owners.” Accountability drives implementation. The implementation plan requires that clear and specific tasks be defined to implement the strategy. Everyone with implementation responsibilities needs to know what to do and what to achieve.
• Selecting the correct strategic metrics to track progress on the objectives or initiatives identified in the implementation plan. Measurable objectives provide an effective basis for management control of the implementation.
• Ensuring that senior leaders actively manage the execution of the strategy and guide implementation across the Navy. The focus should be on ensuring that the strategy is understood throughout the Navy.

The quote by retired Army colonel Ralph Peters is an appropriate description of strategies that are executed poorly.38 No matter how simple, logical, and eloquent, they amount to little if they do not have a positive result; hence the need for crafters of strategy to be concerned with—and involved in guiding—their execution.

Observation 41

Notes: Lindsey Ford, “The ‘Lippmann Gap’ in Asia: Four Challenges to a Credible U.S. Strategy,” War on the Rocks, 3 December 2018,; Stephanie Pezard and Ashley L. Rhoades, What Provokes Putin’s Russia? Deterring without Unintended Escalation (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2020), p. 13, available at; Hew Strachan, “Strategy and Contingency,” International Affairs 87, no. 6 (November 2011), pp. 1284–96, available at

For military and naval assessments, the term risk is used in the following different ways:

• as a synonym for a threat itself;
• as a description that identifies chance of harm or injury from a threat;
• as an expression of the mathematical result of frequency of occurrence multiplied by consequence
• as an expression of whether forces can accomplish assigned missions—in other words, risk as a result of operations.

All these forms generate the famous “friction” of the unpredicted. In crafting strategy, there never will be sufficient resources or predictability to eliminate risk completely, so one must analyze the strategic environment properly and make informed decisions that
both mitigate and accept appropriate degrees of risk. Unfortunately, there is no ready formula.

Risks must be listed in a context of realism, along with the means to address them. Risk to the Navy can be categorized within four dimensions: operational, force management, institutional, and future challenges.

• Operational risk deals with the short-term challenges facing the Navy, as well as our ability to succeed in the current fight, including preparedness for contingencies in the near term.
• Force-management risk deals with ensuring that the Navy is efficiently and effectively organized, manned, equipped, trained, and sustained to provide trained and ready forces to the force commanders.
• Institutional risk addresses the generating force’s ability to support the Navy’s operating force.
• Future-challenges risk deals with the Navy’s ability to address longer-term threats.

The Navy mitigates exposure to risk by ensuring that the right capabilities and sufficient capacity are balanced and available within acceptable bounds of risk to respond effectively and efficiently to challenges.

Col. Mackubin T. Owens, USMC (Ret.), notes the following:

“A good strategy also seeks to minimize risk by, to the extent possible, avoiding mismatches between strategy and related factors. For instance, strategy must be appropriate to the ends as established by policy. Strategy also requires the appropriate tactical instrument to implement it. Finally, the forces required to implement a strategy must be funded, or else it must be revised. If the risk generated by such policy/strategy, strategy/force, and force/budget mismatches cannot be managed, the variables must be brought into better alignment.”39

Observation 42

Graphic source: Lanworks Public Domain.

How can one grade a strategy document on its probable effectiveness? As with everything involved in the crafting of strategy, there are no hard-and-fast answers. However, one can evaluate the product in terms of (1) acceptability, (2) feasibility, (3) suitability to the circumstances, (4) sustainability, and (5) adaptability.

• Acceptability to the leadership is obvious; if—in terms of naval strategy—the product is not acceptable to the CNO, it is going nowhere.
• Feasibility requires an assessment of whether the Navy has or (probably) will have the resources to carry out the strategy. A strategy can be aspirational in the sense that it can be used as an argument for more resources; however, it must be adaptable enough to be implemented with a reasonable probability of success—not with no or even low risk, but with justifiable risk.
• Suitability to circumstances refers to the product’s conformity to national objectives. A strategy that postulates a threat that the political leadership does not recognize will be controversial, to say the least.
• Sustainability refers to more than supporting resources; it also encompasses whether personnel can carry out the product’s implications over the long term. A strategy that postulates substitution of autonomous systems for human control cannot be carried out if there is insufficient funding for such systems at the same time that manpower is being cut. The U.S. Navy has had previous experience with not having enough personnel to operate complex systems that optimistically were assumed to be “lower maintenance.” Without an honest and rigorous examination, it is possible to assume that a strategy will be easier to implement than reality dictates.
• The apocryphal quote by Field Marshal von Moltke cited in the introduction—that “no plan survives contact with the enemy”—can be translated as saying that no strategy can survive a changing security environment if adaptability is not built into its design.

Observation 43

Image source: author.

With one exception, observation 43 is a collecting together of points made previously, restated as a guideline on what easily contributes to failure in the crafting of strategy. Number 43 is, in fact, the most significant observation of all in distinguishing successful efforts from failed attempts. In my experience, these are not mere suggestions; rather, failure to recognize any one of the above truths will damage fatally any effort to develop a strategy. Of course, recognition of the reality of these dangers is not enough; the crafters of strategy always must have a plan to mitigate the dangers or otherwise use and benefit from that reality.

The one point not previously discussed is the separation of the crafters’ egos from the product crafted. It is easy for writers to fall in love with their own words, for those with insight to become enamored of their own ideas, and for intermediate reviewers to be committed to their edits. Yet the final document—which will reflect the decisions of the issuing authority (the CNO)—may appear vastly different from previous versions. In such a process, pride of authorship becomes a burden, particularly when submitted drafts are returned repeatedly for additional editing. Crafting strategy is not about the strategists or their intervening chain of command; it is about the product.

This truly is hard stuff.

Bruce B. Stubbs, SES, is Director of Navy Strategy, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV N7).

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (Aug. 24, 2021) Ships from the United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group and the USS America Expeditionary Strike Group, with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), begin multinational advanced aviation operations in support of Large Scale Global Exercise (LSGE) 21, Aug. 20, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Aron Montano)

Sea Control 358 – Information Fusion Center Singapore with CDR Jeremy Bachelier (French Version)

By Alexia Bouallagui

L’animatrice, rédactrice et productrice Alexia Bouallagui s’entretient avec le Commandant Jeremy Bachelier, Officier de Liaison français au Centre de Fusion de l’Information (IFC) à Singapour. Ils discutent des missions du centre et de la contribution de l’IFC à la sécurité maritime du point de vue d’un Officier de Liaison français. Ils abordent également les défis actuels et futurs de la sécurité maritime dans la région Indo-Pacifique ainsi que l’évolution des menaces pour la sécurité maritime et les outils à la disposition de la communauté locale et internationale.

Sea Control 358 – Information Fusion Center Singapore with CDR Jeremy Bachelier (French Version)

Alexia Bouallagui is Co-Host and producer of the Sea Control podcast. Contact the team at

Sea Control 358 – Information Fusion Center Singapore with CDR Jeremy Bachelier (English Version)

By Alexia Bouallagui

Commander Jeremy Bachelier, the French Liaison Officer at the Information Fusion Center (IFC) in Singapore joins us to discuss the missions of the center and the IFC’s contribution to maritime security from the perspective of a French Liaison Officer. We also explore the current and future challenges to maritime security in the Indo-Pacific as well as the evolution in the types of threats to maritime security and the tools at the disposal of the local and international communities.

Sea Control 358 – Information Fusion Center Singapore with CDR Jeremy Bachelier (English Version)

Alexia Bouallagui is Co-Host and producer of the Sea Control podcast. Contact the team at

40 Years of Missile Warfare: What the losses of HMS Sheffield and RFS Moskva Tell Us about War at Sea

By Steve Wills

The recent loss of the Russian Navy guided missile cruiser RFS Moskva from a cruise missile strike called forth many comparisons to previous losses of large surface combatants, including the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano and even the Japanese super dreadnought Yamato. Only a few however remembered the HMS Sheffield from the Falklands War. While Moskva was a large and capable surface warship that invited comparisons with the losses of larger combatants, the Russian cruiser’s demise may have much more in common with that of the Royal Navy Type 42 destroyer than Belgrano or any World War II warship.

The birth of the modern cruise missile in the Cold War, and the many sensors, communication tools, and other systems needed to use or defend against anti-ship missiles set the stage for a whole new era in naval warfare. A series of unfortunate events laid the British warship open to attack and a similar version of those events may have doomed Moskva as well. Modern warships are very much “eggshells armed with hammers” and even one hit is enough to put the ship out of combat action or cause her sinking. As the 40th anniversary of the first successful cruise missile attack of the Falklands War recently transpired, it is useful to review the fate of HMS Sheffield to understand what her loss and the loss of the Moskva mean for war at sea now and in the future.

Sentinels in Dangerous Littorals

Air defense is one of the most challenging warship missions in the current environment of cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as conventional aircraft threats. Sheffield and Moskva were both on the front lines of their respective wars serving as air defense units protecting other ships from air and missile attack. Sheffield acted as a picket vessel with the mission of engaging any aircraft and missiles that threatened the British task group aircraft carriers HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible. Moskva’s task organization is unknown, but as the Black Sea Fleet’s best air defense warship she likely would have been providing air and missile defense for other nearby Russian warships.

A warship’s defense posture matters greatly in her ability to effectively respond to air and missile attack. That readiness may also depend on other ships in the same task group. Sheffield was nominally prepared to respond to air and missile attack, but several factors limited her responsiveness. According to the post-attack investigation and subsequent revelations, Sheffield’s anti-air warfare officer was out of the operations room at the time of the attack, and a satellite telephone call caused interference with the ship’s electronic support measures (ESM) gear. That disruption blinded the ship’s ability to “see” the inbound missile and by the time lookouts identified the attacking weapon it was too late for Sheffield to respond with weapons and countermeasures. Sheffield’s crew might have been excused for that issue, except a battle was raging around them at the same time with other British task force units tracking supposed missile contacts. The other British air defense destroyer HMS Glasgow was in the process of trying to identify an air threat to the group, but the time from the start of Glasgow’s engagement of the unknown aircraft to impact of the Exocet missile fired by one of those aircraft was less than 3.5 minutes. Missile warfare is fast-paced and any degradation in readiness can be fatal.

May 4, 1982 – HMS Sheffield burns after being struck by an anti-ship missile. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Moskva may also have been engaged in normal activity that masked the ability of her onboard sensors as did Sheffield’s satellite phone call. Moskva may have disregarded the threat of air and missile attack to the point that, like a later cruise missile victim USS Stark (also hit by Exocet missiles in 1987,) her defenses were turned off and not available. Warships must always be vigilant in littoral waters where the risk of cruise missile attack is greater due to closer range to shore-based platforms and limited time for response. The Israeli corvette Hanit escaped severe damage or loss from such a surprise attack in 2006 only because the missile did not arm and struck a glancing blow.

What history shows us is that many warships that have fallen victim to anti-ship missile attacks were struck because of poor readiness and situational awareness. These ships were not struck because their defenses could not hold their own against overwhelming missile salvos. Rather, these ships were struck by exceedingly small salvos of only one or two missiles, attacks they were expected to be able to manage handedly. But poor readiness and awareness resulted in their defenses being virtually absent from the engagement, allowing small missile strikes to wreak enormous damage.

May 18, 1987 – USS Stark (FFG-31) the day after being struck by two anti-ship missiles. (U.S. Navy photo)

Eggshells armed with Hammers

Winston Churchill was perhaps one of the first recorded personalities to describe modern warships as eggshells with hammers, but his description is even more valid today than when he was first quoted as saying it in 1914. Heavy armor for the sides (armor belts,) decks, gun turrets, conning towers, and other critical command and control or engineering sections was common in warship construction from the period of the American Civil War through the end of World War II. While evaluations of armor effectiveness were mixed, it was assumed that some amount of steel plate was useful in protecting large and medium warships from damage. Destroyer-sized ships and smaller lacked much armor, but still had some additional protection around gun mounts. Today by contrast only the largest ships such as aircraft carriers have armor. HMS Sheffield was a destroyer but was larger than her World War II counterparts and might have carried armor. Moskva was a cruiser and previous cruisers had moderate armor protection, but the Russian cruiser too was unarmored. What changed to the point where most warships eschewed armor protection altogether, especially in the face of cruise missile attack?

The addition of missiles and the electronic tools needed to search for opponents and guide weapons to targets fundamentally changed warship design in the early Cold War. Missiles were not turret mounted, and at first were fired from rotating launchers and later from vertical tubes inside the hull. Sensors needed to be placed on tall masts, and to keep the ship stable, the missiles and other heavy gear needed to be mounted lower in the ship. This suggests armoring a ship’s hull, but weapons technology changed in many ways with the introduction of the missile. These weapons were large in the case of those designed as ship killers with even early versions possessing 1,000-pound warheads. Some anti-ship missiles can strike a ship at supersonic speeds and deliver an amount of kinetic force that rivals battleship shells. Later variants possessed shaped-charge warheads that upon impact inject a superheated molten jet into the armor, melting a hole for the rest of the warhead to follow. (The Javelin missile employed so effectively by Ukrainian troops against Russian tanks has a shaped-charge warhead.) In addition, the introduction of nuclear weapons served to make armor pointless. While target ships survived terrible atomic test blasts, the radiation from those weapons could not be deflected and would have killed crews without the weapons that carried them penetrating the ship.

Chinese YJ-12 anti-ship missiles at the PLA 70th anniversary parade in 2019. (China Ministry of National Defense)

Once a missile penetrates and explodes, the damage it inflicts can rapidly immobilize or render a warship unusable. The Exocet missile that hit Sheffield did not explode, but it ruptured a fuel oil tank and fragments from the impact ruptured the ship’s firefighting water system. Deprived of water to fight fires, the crew of the Sheffield were driven from the ship to its exposed decks forward of the bridge and aft of the helicopter hanger; a situation that hampered firefighting efforts. Moskva’s final pictures also show heavy damage, from missile impacts in the middle of the ship (amidships) and many scorch marks emanating from port holes and other undamaged sections suggesting a massive fire. Commercially available wargames have also suggested that the Slava-class cruiser (Moskva was named Slava before her 2000 refit) could survive multiple cruise missile hits, but in this case seems to have succumbed to just two hits from medium-sized weapons.

This is not surprising and not a new development. The robust warships from the World War II era, including capital ships, could be immobilized with one or two torpedo hits as well. Even one cruise missile hit can be disastrous to a small or medium-sized ship as evidenced by the 2016 cruise missile attack on the former U.S. High Speed Vessel Swift, then operated by the United Arab Emirates (UAE.) Even an unarmed drone can make a large hole in a ship as evidenced by the 2013 accidental collision of a 270lb target drone and the cruiser USS Chancellorsville during a tracking exercise. Moskva may still have been filled with flammable paneling in her officer’s quarters and had poorly maintained damage control gear as one of the author’s NATO colleagues reported after a 2007 visit to the ship. But most warships today other than large aircraft carriers qualify as eggshells armed with hammers.

May 14, 2017 – HSV-2 Swift in the port of Suez Egypt, after being struck by an anti-ship missile in the Red Sea. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Smudge2075)

Sheffield and Moskva: A Common Fate?

The Sheffield, like Moskva, was not immediately sunk by her cruise missile hit, but instead lingered for several days until she sank in rough seas whilst being towed toward South Georgia island for emergency repairs. Moskva too appears to have initially survived but sank later, and it does not take too much change in weather to sink a heavily damaged warship.

The continuing lesson to be learned from cruise missile warfare is what legendary naval tactics professor Wayne Hughes taught his students for nearly four decades. Hughes always said, “attack effectively first.” Do not be on the receiving end of a cruise missile attack as history suggests there me be only minutes or even seconds to respond. The opposition must be denied the information that allows them to target and fire upon warships with confidence, while priority must be given to securing similar targeting information for one’s own forces to fire first.

Sheffield could not see the missile that fatally damaged her until it was too late to respond and Moskva may have suffered a similar fate. Advanced cruise missiles are now part of many nations’ weapon arsenals and continue to improve in terms of speed, maneuverability, range, and effectiveness. The lessons from both the Moskva and Sheffield cruise missile attacks are not new revelations for naval warfare, but rather the timeless reminder that those who do not prepare their ships and crews to face the most prevalent threats may suffer a tragic fate.

Dr. Steven Wills is a navalist for the Center for Maritime Strategy at the Navy League of the United States. He is an expert in U.S. Navy strategy and policy and U.S. Navy surface warfare programs and platforms. His research interests include the history of U.S. Navy strategy development over the Cold War and immediate, post-Cold War era, and the history of the post-World War II U.S. Navy surface fleet.

Featured Image: The Russian cruiser Moskva following an April 13, 2022 strike from Ukrainian missiles. (OSINT Technical via Twitter)