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The Global Operating Model’s Contact and Blunt Layers: Cornerstones for U.S Naval Strategy, Pt. 2

Read Part One here.

By Paul Lyons and Jon Solomon

In Part 1, we summarized the principles and functions underpinning the 2018 National Defense Strategy’s (NDS) Global Operating Model (GOM). We outlined the factors that motivated GOM development, and showed how the GOM’s historical lineage informs its contemporary utility. In today’s second and final installment in this series, we will outline the strategic importance of forward “competition operations” to deterrence. We will then identify the necessary attributes for naval forces operating in the Contact and Blunt layers, as well as factors that strategists should consider when thinking about such operations. We will conclude with some thoughts regarding the GOM’s overarching implications for future naval strategy and force employment.

The Strategic Importance of “Competition Operations” to Deterrence

Contact layer support to deterrence goes beyond provision of support to the Blunt layer. To understand the connections between day-to-day competition operations in the Contact layer and deterrence against more acute aggression, one must first understand how the Chinese and Russians think about deterrence.

The (since superseded) 2013 edition of the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Science’s authoritative textbook Science of Military Strategy notes that deterrence strength derives in part from the “global strategic balance,” which itself is informed by assessments of “comprehensive national power” (CNP). CNP, which “takes economy and science and technology as the core” and includes political, military, and diplomatic power, significantly shapes Chinese perceptions of opportunities, threats, and risks. The Science of Military Strategy’s writers assert that all the elements of national power combine to “create optimum conditions for achieving the deterrence goal,” with the non-military elements serving as means that support the military element.1

Russian military theorists similarly define strategic deterrence as:

“…a package of coordinated political, diplomatic, economic, ideological, moral, spiritual, informational, scientific, technological, military, and other actions taken by a country to demonstrate the decisiveness of the political leadership to tap all instruments of state power consecutively or simultaneously—to stabilize the military, political, and strategic environment, to anticipate aggression, and to deescalate military conflict.”2

Russian strategic deterrence assessments are likely informed by estimates of the “military-political situation” at the global, regional, and local levels as well as estimates of how political, military, economic, and perhaps also technological power holistically blend into “state power.”3

We see, then, that both China and Russia link theater deterrence with strategic deterrence, and perceive strategic deterrence as encompassing more than solely military factors. It follows that Contact layer operations that affect Chinese and Russian perceptions of American political, diplomatic, informational, and economic influence within the Indo-Pacific and Europe therefore likely have deterrent effects beyond mere correlations of forces. The same is likely true for Contact layer operations that support the perceived bolstering of American economic strength by supporting relations and favorable market access to trading partners, diplomatic and informational strength by reinforcing relations with longstanding allies and partners while cultivating new ones, and technological strength by demonstrating impressive new capabilities or fielding them quickly. And of course, Contact layer operations that shape perceptions of American political strength by demonstrating U.S. leaders’ resolve likely have a disproportionate effect on deterring Chinese and Russian leaders from engaging in aggression they deem to carry uncomfortable risk, and correspondingly for assuring allies and partners.

None of this is different from how U.S. forces, and especially naval forces, were employed forward in day-to-day operations during the Cold War in support of strategic competition—and in turn deterrence.4 Naval forces are unique within the Joint Force in that they are not garrison forces: they regularly deploy from homeports and bases into prioritized regions, and spend most of their deployed time in their intended operating environments at sea or ashore. Their operational tempo during day-to-day strategic competition must be carefully balanced against the time and resources needed to restore and preserve elements of their combat and material readiness. However, just as excessive operational tempos negatively affect naval force readiness, naval forces also lose elements of their competitiveness, deterrent, and combat effectiveness when they are reduced to a “fleet in being” kept pierside or in home waters.

Indeed, failures to confront adversary efforts to erode norms or employ calibrated sub-conventional aggression at forward friction points, especially within prioritized theaters, risks sending adversary leaders dangerous signals. As we have noted, authoritative Chinese and Russian literature strongly imply that military balances are just one of the metrics their leaders take into account within their decision calculus. U.S. efforts at maintaining deterrence stability benefit from convincing Chinese and Russian leaders that holistic strategic and theater trends remain unfavorable for them to chance major aggression.

This is not just an East Asia or Eastern Europe consideration given how Chinese and Russian estimates of U.S. strategic power are measured regionally as well as worldwide. The 2018 NDS prioritized the Indo-Pacific and Europe for day-to-day allocation of the most combat-capable and campaign-critical forces. That does not mean that U.S. forces should not be used economically to support strategic competition with China and Russia at carefully selected friction points elsewhere. Indeed, Contact layer operations at friction points in secondary theaters can sometimes offer low-cost opportunities for shaping Chinese and Russian global power estimates and complicating their abilities to score grand strategic gains they value highly, which in turn may indirectly reinforce deterrence against aggression in the priority theaters. Naval forces provide scalable, tailorable, and highly mobile options for performing these kinds of operations, including from within international waters with no dependence on a host nation. The 2018 NDS’ Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) concept, which emphasizes proactive and operationally unpredictable force movements and actions, provides an additional framework for tailoring Contact layer naval operations at select friction points in support of deterrence and strategic competition.

Deterrence stability also benefits from not pressing adversaries in places and ways that excessively exacerbate their fears based on their perceptions of extant circumstances, regardless of whether the U.S. instrument of competition is military, non-military, or both in tandem. Conventional deterrence works best if adversary leaders are primarily motivated by opportunism; it does not work as well if adversary leaders are primarily motivated by desperation and fear.5 An approach that carefully balances deterrence and competition with reassurance and restraint is necessary. It is essential that authoritative intelligence estimates of adversary mindsets, calculus, and objectives under extant circumstances dynamically inform Contact layer operations and Blunt layer configuration and posture.

Ultimately, decisions regarding which friction points U.S. naval forces should contest and in which theaters, and the timing and means for doing so, are reserved for U.S. political leadership. The naval services’ responsibility is to possess the requisite concepts, capabilities, and readiness to provide U.S. political leaders a range of flexible options for Contact layer actions, and a range of credible and effective options for Blunt layer design.

Attributes of and Considerations for Naval Forces in the Contact and Blunt Layers

A force’s required attributes—the functional characteristics it needs in order to support strategic objectives—can be derived from strategy to inform force design and development. The Contact and Blunt layers create demands for specific attributes from naval forces.

Responsive. Naval forces need to be positioned and postured such that they can respond on timelines necessary to generate circumstantial competitive or deterrent effects at forward friction points. This generally means Contact and Blunt layer naval forces must be forward deployed, whether permanently, rotationally, or situationally (e.g. DFE)—and whether at the front in a theater or further afield.

Credible. Adversary leaders must perceive forward naval forces’ capabilities, quantities, positioning, and posture as sufficient to make aggression unattractively costly and risky. It does not matter whether U.S. leaders perceive forward naval forces as sufficient or not; adversary perceptions are what matter for deterrent and competitive effect.

Persistent. Forward naval forces may need to remain in a given area during day-to-day or crisis operations for long periods. They require the ability to sustain themselves through economical consumption of fuel and materiel and by leveraging theater logistics networks.

Tailorable. Forward naval forces may be required to generate a wide variety of deterrent or competitive effects based on U.S. objectives and extant circumstances. This primarily translates into requirements for flexibility, selective visibility, and scalability:

  • Flexible. Forward naval forces possessing multi-mission capabilities and training, adjustable payloads (whether equipment, munitions, or personnel), and design features that enable operations in a wide variety of climates provide U.S. leaders with a range of tailorable options for deterrence and competition. By virtue of being forward, naval forces can also provide flexibility through their abilities to swing between Contact and Blunt layer tasks.
  • Selective Visibility. Clearly visible naval forces provide signaling options in support of deterrence and allied/partner assurance. Naval forces that are less visible if not virtually undetectable also support deterrence since they are difficult for an adversary to preemptively neutralize and can pose substantial latent threats to an adversary’s plans. Many naval forces can tailor their relative visibility by changing their operating postures. For example, normally highly visible surface combatants and Marine forces can reduce their emitted signatures to complicate adversaries’ abilities to detect, localize, and classify them. Conversely, normally undetectable submarines can conduct actions such as port calls to indicate their forward presence. A tailored balance across the spectrum of naval visibility, based on circumstances and adversary mindsets, can amplify deterrence credibility while generating competitive effects.
  • Scalable. Some deterrent or competitive effects benefit from the employment of a Carrier Strike Group or Marine Expeditionary Unit. Many others, however, only require a single ship (not even necessarily a major combatant) or a Marine rifle company. The ability to use aggregation or disaggregation to scale the naval forces allocated to a particular Contact or Blunt layer task based on mission needs and circumstances further expands U.S. leaders’ tailorable options. Furthermore, the ability to be highly economical in scaling naval force allocations for Contact layer tasks provides opportunities to generate competitive effects without detracting from the naval forces needed for Blunt layer credibility and responsiveness in priority theaters.

However, strategists must be aware of considerations that bound naval forces’ effective use in support of the Contact and Blunt layers.

Sustainability. As a Western Hemisphere nation with Eastern Hemisphere vital interests, U.S. naval force employment must balance between the forward presence required for Contact and Blunt layer tasks and the preservation of Surge layer material readiness. Continued elevated use of Carrier Strike Groups for Blunt layer tasks in the Middle East in recent years has complicated the fleet’s ability to maintain a stable balance between deployments and shipyard maintenance.6 This imbalance detracts from the time the fleet needs to restore readiness and availability for rotational deployments from the United States to the prioritized Indo-Pacific and European theaters—and for emergent Surge layer tasks. It also consumes ships’ operational service lives on a pace faster than was anticipated in their designs.7 In the absence of the larger fleet the nation needs, strategists are left with two options: marginal increases in the numbers of naval forces forward deployed in priority theaters (whether permanently at existing bases, or on extended deployments operating from transient “places” while using “multi-crewing” concepts), or marginal restraint regarding where, how often, and how many naval forces are rotationally deployed. The Department of the Navy can only provide recommendations regarding these options; decisions are reserved for the Secretary of Defense or the President, and successive Presidential administrations have been unwilling to substantially reduce naval presence in or refrain from responsively surging naval forces to the Middle East.8

Survivability. Blunt layer design in particular needs to balance naval forces’ visibility with preservation of their survivability. Adversaries need to perceive that a war-opening first salvo attack would fail to prevent forward U.S. naval forces from promptly reconstituting the critical mass needed to bog down the adversary’s thrusts against allied/partner forces or territories and bleed the adversary’s spearhead forces.9 A tailored mix of naval forces and postures, ranging from highly visible to nearly invisible, creates a mutually reinforcing maritime deterrent system. The integration of this maritime system within a broader Joint and Coalition theater deterrent further balances between the visibility and survivability attributes.

PEARL HARBOR (July 28, 2021) Sailors assigned to the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Chicago (SSN 721), along with civilian contractors with BAE Systems, load a UGM-84 anti-ship harpoon missile onto the submarine in preparation of Large-Scale Exercise (LSE) 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael B. Zingaro)

Predictability. Some operational predictability can erode deterrence, as an adversary can note and potentially exploit the precise timing and timelines for when naval forces regularly rotate into and out of a theater. Likewise, if the flexible deterrent option selected to push back on an adversary’s provocations tends to be the same every time, that option’s effectiveness may decline. However, operational unpredictability can also erode deterrence, as an adversary can take note of and exploit transient naval presence near a friction point if it believes it can score a desired gain before the U.S. can dynamically reposition naval forces for Contact or Blunting purposes. Operational unpredictability can be especially destabilizing if adversary leaders misperceive U.S. intent behind a maritime DFE operation, resulting in inadvertent provocation. Authoritative, intelligence-informed operational planning is essential for mitigating risks stemming from a contemplated operation’s predictability or unpredictability.

Naval Forces and the New Era of Enduring Strategic Competition

The post-Cold War era was born with the Soviet collapse. It arguably ended with the rise of Chinese and Russian revisionist ambitions, and their development of significant military capabilities aimed at supporting those ambitions. We therefore find ourselves at the dawn of a new era—a “return to history.” The circumstances of the Cold War and the present are hardly identical, but they are similar enough to make it worthwhile for us to look back into our strategic past to understand what old concepts might offer value as adapted to present and future challenges.

The U.S. military’s ability to hold the line during what will likely be a multi-decade strategic competition with China and Russia, and especially the prevention of ruinous major war, requires the intelligent and balanced use of forces in prioritized regions and globally. The GOM represents a 21st century update of America’s Cold War-era strategic approach for doing so. Just as was the case during that twilight struggle, naval forces provide unique attributes for supporting deterrence and strategic competition at forward friction points. Disciplined implementation of the GOM enables use of naval forces for strategic competition without undermining deterrence, and vice versa.

There is no analytic evidence the United States needs a fundamentally different naval force architecture (which includes but is not necessarily limited to fleet composition, organization, command and control philosophy, and operating concepts) to support strategic competition from the one it needs to support deterrence. From the birth of our democratic republic onward, we designed the bulk of our naval forces for utility in armed conflict, which gave them the versatility they needed for steady state competition operations and the combat credibility they needed for deterrence. Rigorous quantitative analysis may find naval force architecture should change on the margins in order to provide better balances between the needs of deterrence and strategic competition, but as we have shown the two do not distinctly trade against each other when intelligently applied within a strategic design like the GOM.

The United States does need a larger Navy-Marine Corps team in order to increase its sustainable ability to support the deterrence and geopolitical competition requirements flowing from national strategy, or rather to reduce strain on and risks to naval force material readiness. To do this, the naval services will need to explain to the American people in more concrete terms how investments in larger naval forces will augment our nation’s ability to protect our security, prosperity, and influence. The GOM offers the foundation—and the American historical continuity—for explaining the naval services’ strategic contributions.

Even with larger naval forces, however, strategists will still need to prioritize where, when, and how naval forces are allocated to Contact and Blunt layer tasks. Chinese military capabilities and capacity are likely to grow on a scale that threatens U.S. vital interests in ways not seen since the Cold War, if ever. Russian military capabilities and capacity likely will not grow on anything close to a similar scale, but will retain the ability to pose threats to U.S. vital interests. The Navy-Marine Corps team will not be able to use force growth alone to solve their naval strategic challenges. Integrated solutions with the other services, the interagency, and allies and partners will be necessary for deterrence and strategic competitive effectiveness. The Contact and Blunt layers provide the functional logic along which all these players can combine their respective efforts with naval forces to greatest effect.

Specifically, the United States should look to allies and partners to shoulder significant roles within the Contact and Blunt layers. Allies and partners should specifically carry solitary responsibility for direct defense of their maritime territories and commercial interests from sub-conventional “salami slicing” aggression, if only because this often constitutes enforcement of their national laws and sovereignty. U.S. naval forces can and should operate in ways that counter Chinese and Russian threats of using conventional escalation to undermine allied and partner constabulary operations. U.S. naval forces can also provide allied and partner constabularies with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support. U.S. naval forces should not, however, actually perform domestic maritime policing actions for allies and partners. Nor should U.S. naval forces spend scarce resources developing duplicative Blunt layer capabilities in which allies or partners arguably possess competitive advantage, such as flotillas of fast coastal missile boats.

Absent the GOM, U.S. leaders would face reduced strategic influence in critical regions, with associated decrements to the American people’s security and prosperity, as the non-military forms of U.S. national power would lose the forward military power bulwark they rest upon. U.S. leaders would correspondingly also lose options for proactive, credible conventional deterrence by denial against aggression. The majority of options would likely become reactive, and in fact compel near-total reliance on conventional deterrence by punishment with all its shortcomings, if not nuclear deterrence and its credibility issues relative to deterrence of sub-conventional or limited conventional aggression.10 The practical consequence would likely be the United States retreating to its pre-1945 de facto strategic emphasis on compellence by rollback, which lacks credibility against nuclear-armed great powers.

Current U.S. leaders show zero signs of wanting to live in such a world.11 And so the GOM will likely survive in the 2022 NDS to the benefit of U.S. naval forces, perhaps not in name, but almost certainly in functions.

Paul Lyons is a Principal Policy Analyst at Systems Planning and Analysis (SPA), Inc. and a former Surface Warfare Officer with four command-at-sea tours in the Pacific. He previously served as Branch Head for Global Policy and Posture within the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and as the Navy’s lead maritime strategist within the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s 2018 NDS Core Team.

Jon Solomon is a Principal Policy Analyst at SPA, Inc. and a former Surface Warfare Officer.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the authors and are presented in a personal capacity. These views do not reflect the official positions of SPA, Inc., and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency.


1. “Science of Military Strategy (2013).” Translated by Air University China Aerospace Studies Institute, 2021; Pg.84, 86, 94, 102, 104, 130, 136, 139, 152, 168-169, 178, 188-189, 306.

2. “Russia Military Power.” U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, 2017; Pg23.

3. “Russian Assessments and Applications of the Correlation of Forces and Means;” Pg22-25, 104, 112, 127-128.

4. The 1980s Navy’s Maritime Strategy described these functions in detail. See John D. Hattendorf and Peter Swartz, eds. “U.S. Naval Strategy in the 1980s: Selected Documents. Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 2008; Pg48-52, 154-162, 213-214, 282-287, 306-308.

5. See Janice Gross Stein, “Deterrence and Reassurance,” in Behavior, Society, and Nuclear War, Vol. 2, eds. Philip E. Tetlock et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), Pg16; and Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), Pg137, 139–40.

6. Megan Eckstein. “No Margin Left: Overworked Carrier Force Struggles to Maintain Deployments After Decades of Overuse.” U.S. Naval Institute News, 12 November 2020,

7. CDR Isaac Harris, USN. “Change the Surface Navy’s Maintenance Philosophy.” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 147 No.8 (August 2021),

8. Bryan McGrath. “The Problems of Politics and Posture are Baked into the System.” War on the Rocks, 05 January 2022,

9. Jon Solomon. “Parrying the 21st Century First Salvo.” Center for International Maritime Security, 07 July 2016,

10. Jonathan F. Solomon. “Demystifying Conventional Deterrence.” Strategic Studies Quarterly, Vol. 07 No. 4 (Winter 2013), Pg120, 135.

11. The Biden Administration’s March 2021 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance states that “At its root, ensuring our national security requires us to… Promote a favorable distribution of power to deter and prevent adversaries from directly threatening the United States and our allies, inhibiting access to the global commons, or dominating key regions…” (Pg9). It also states that “Elsewhere, as we position ourselves to deter our adversaries and defend our interests, working alongside our partners, our presence will be most robust in the Indo-Pacific and Europe.” (Pg15). Had the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s 2021 Global Posture Review opted in favor of reduced force allocations to the Indo-Pacific and Europe, in favor of increased reliance on achieving deterrence through DFE or responsive force surges forward, it would have suggested a 2022 NDS shift away from deterrence by denial and towards deterrence—or compellence—by punishment, possibly paired with rollback campaigns.

Featured Image: SOUTH CHINA SEA (Oct. 30, 2021) U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67), U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57), U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69), Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Murasame-class destroyer JS Murasame (DD 101), and JMSDF Izumo-class helicopter destroyer JS Kaga (DDH 184) transit together in the South China Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Haydn N. Smith)

The Global Operating Model’s Contact and Blunt Layers: Cornerstones for U.S Naval Strategy, Pt. 1

By Paul Lyons and Jon Solomon

The 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) heralded the end of the Department of Defense’s quarter century of emphasis on countering transnational violent extremist organizations and rogue regional powers. Although those threats hardly evaporated, they pale in comparison to the threats posed by China and Russia that have emerged over the past decade. As DoD’s NDS public summary observed, Chinese efforts to seek “Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future” combined with Russian efforts to “shatter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and change European and Middle East security and economic structures to its favor” fundamentally endanger U.S. security, prosperity, and influence.1

The 2018 NDS explains how DoD and the Joint Force will reorient for the new era of strategic competition with adversarial great powers. It recognizes that China and Russia institutionally perceive themselves as being in conflict with the U.S. and its allies, albeit below the level of open and violent clashes of arms. It likewise prioritizes the use of U.S. military power to deter Chinese and Russian leaders from forcible aggression while also shaping the strategic environment in priority theaters such that if deterrence fails, the U.S. and its allies can defend from the strongest political-military situation attainable.

The 2018 NDS designates the Indo-Pacific theater as the highest priority for day-to-day allocation of Joint Forces, and Chinese military power as the pacing threat for much of the Joint Force’s capability development efforts. It also recognizes the need to support competition and deterrence of aggression in Europe and the Middle East while simultaneously defending the American homeland. The 2018 NDS calls its approach for doing so the Global Operating Model (GOM). In our opinion, the GOM is the most important yet perhaps one of the least widely understood elements of the strategy.

This two-part series will illuminate the importance of the GOM, especially its Contact and Blunt layers. It will outline the GOM’s continuity with the successful U.S. strategic approaches to competition and deterrence during the Cold War, explain how this lineage informs the functions performed by the Contact and Blunt layers, and illustrate how naval forces uniquely contribute to and bridge between those two layers’ functions. In particular, it will show how the Contact layer is designed to reinforce deterrence through day-to-day shaping of how China and Russia perceive regional as well as global trends and balances involving all forms of national power, as well as by complicating their abilities to achieve strategic objectives below the level of armed conflict. Lastly, it will outline the attributes required of naval forces to support the Contact and Blunt layers, as well as the GOM’s overarching implications for future naval strategy and force employment.

One of us (Lyons) had the honor of serving as the Navy’s lead strategist on the 2018 NDS Core Team and was a member of the small group that developed and defined the GOM concept. Even though the GOM is applicable to all the services, the Contact and Blunt layers have unique—and intentionally designed—implications for the Navy-Marine Corps team. And even though the Biden Administration’s Office of the Secretary of Defense will soon debut a new NDS, which could result in the GOM’s elimination as an official construct, the Contact and Blunt layers’ logic will live on as long as their NDS continues to embody a forward strategy for competition, deterrence, and defense. We will outline why we believe this is so and what it means for America’s naval services.

The GOM’s Principles

On first glance the GOM’s four layers—Contact, Blunt, Surge, and Homeland—may seem to be entirely geographical. In actuality, they are primarily functional—they describe the roles the Joint Force is to perform, whether shaping or contesting below the level of armed conflict in support of competition and deterrence, or during the initial stages of an armed conflict to seize the initiative and enable a broader defense against aggression. The roles of each GOM layer translate into a logic for how Joint Forces are to be positioned, postured, and employed across the conflict spectrum, and are a major source of demand signals for Joint Force capability development.

The layers’ official public descriptions are sparse:

  • Contact layer forces “work by, with, and through allies and partners to compete and defend U.S. interests below armed conflict.” Should an armed conflict erupt, Contact forces “enable Blunt and Surge forces.”
  • Blunt layer forces “comprise combat-credible forward deterrent forces capable of contesting aggression by delaying, degrading, or denying enemy forces from quickly seizing their objectives.”
  • Surge layer forces “provide agile, war-winning capabilities and capacity to reinforce the Contact and Blunt layers.”
  • Homeland layer forces “persistently defend the American people and its territory from foreign attack.”2

Further details emerged from the Senate testimony of former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Strategy and Force Development) and 2018 NDS Core Team leader Elbridge Colby:

  • Contact layer forces “orient activities in the ‘gray zone,’ especially in concert with allies, to prevent Russia or China from dominating the crucial perceptual landscape or surprising the United States and its allies by augmenting allied defenses, collecting intelligence, and challenging salami-slicing activities.”
  • Blunt layer forces “focus U.S. and allied force development, employment, and posture on the crucial role of ‘blunting’: delaying, degrading, and ideally denying the enemy’s attempt to lock in its gains before the United States can effectively respond. Crucially, blunting is a function – not an attribute – of the force. The central idea is to prevent China or Russia from achieving a fait accompli – it does not require a fixed force. Indeed, blunting is likely to be done best by a combination of munitions launched from afar as well as forces deployed and fighting forward.” (Emphasis from the original.)
  • Surge layer forces “provide the decisive force that can arrive later, exploiting the operational and political leverage created by the ‘Blunt’ Layer to defeat China or Russia’s invasion and induce them to end the conflict on terms we prefer.”
  • Homeland layer forces “deter and defeat attacks on the homeland in ways that are consistent with the Joint Force’s ability to win the forward fight and favorably manage escalation.”3

Hence, the layer a unit is operating in is defined by the functions it performs based on its assigned roles, and not necessarily by where it is located.


During the 1990s and early 2000s, with the exception of forces employed in intervention operations or the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, forward deployed U.S. forces were primarily used day-to-day to tangibly demonstrate commitments to allies and partners worldwide, symbolically underscore regions’ importance to U.S. national interests, and underwrite peace and security within those regions. These forward forces did contribute to theater deterrence, but it was not their most highly prioritized function. The bulk of the post-Cold War U.S. deterrence approach rested on threatening regional “rogue” states with decisive defeats at the hands of forces surged into theater. If these countries embarked upon aggression, U.S. forward-deployed forces were not configured to deny them quick, cheap attainment of objectives since it was assumed that indications and warning would provide sufficient time for the Joint Force to amass an “iron mountain” in theater. Nor could these countries wield credible threats of escalation to outcompete U.S. power.4 U.S. forward-deployed forces’ task was to provide options for unleashing prompt and limited—albeit in some cases debilitating—conventional punishments in response to aggression.

The U.S. deterrence approach faced stresses during 2003-2011 due to the high demands of the Afghan and Iraq wars. The Navy’s ability to sustainably deploy combat-credible forces in theaters other than the Middle East was especially challenged by the steady decline in fleet size during this period.5 The approach was ultimately rendered ineffective, however, by the rapid growth in Chinese military power in eastern Asia and the parallel rise of aggressive Chinese regional revisionism following the 2008 global economic crisis, as exemplified by their 2012 seizure of Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines, their efforts to militarize contested islands and shoals in the South China Sea, and their probes against the Japanese Senkaku Islands. Russia’s military modernization following the 2008 Russo-Georgia War, its annexation of Ukrainian Crimea and proxy invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014, and its subsequent stream of provocations along NATO’s territorial frontiers and maritime periphery further compounded the problem. U.S. forces in the Western Pacific and Europe were neither deployed in sufficient steady-state numbers, nor employed optimally in combination with the non-military elements of national power to dissuade China and Russia from limited acts of aggression below the level of armed conflict.

The 2018 NDS Core Team recognized the inadequacies of the post-Cold War force allocation models, especially in the face of enduring and perpetually evolving Chinese and Russian provocations or aggression below the level of armed conflict, reinforced by latent threats of conventional escalation (e.g. so-called “grey zone” or “sub-conventional” actions). The NDS Core Team also recognized that the solution required creation of a strategic construct that would require Joint Forces to be persistently present at or near points of friction in priority theaters to demonstrate American resolve and uphold international law, normative behavior, and diplomatic resolutions of bilateral and multilateral challenges while deterring escalation. And so the NDS Core Team tasked a small group of its members to develop the GOM.

The GOM development group recognized that the construct they devised levies a demand on the Joint Force and—to the seminal point of this article—especially on Navy forces to contribute to the Contact and Blunt layer functions through sustainable balancing of permanent forward basing, rotational deployments from U.S. homeports, and complementary unpredictable Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) actions. They also recognized that the construct they created was actually a 21st Century evolution of the successful model the U.S. used throughout the Cold War.

We’ve Done this Before

From the late 1940s through 1991, and excluding U.S. forces directly engaged in combat actions during the Vietnam War, the U.S. deployed Contact and Blunt layer-analogous forces in Western Europe and East Asia to deter and dissuade Soviet (and to a lesser extent, Chinese and North Korean) leaders from aggression, in part by shaping these leaders’ perceptions of costs and risks. U.S. forces did this by positioning and posturing combat-credible forces such that an adversary bent on territorial aggression against a U.S. ally would not be able to avoid clashing with U.S. forward forces—whether in central Europe, the Taiwan Strait, or South Korea—thereby creating a risk of potential nuclear escalation that adversary leaders deemed intolerable. In recognition of the fact that Soviet and North Korean conventional forces possessed quantitative advantages over combined U.S. and allied forces in central Europe and South Korea, the U.S. allocated additional Surge layer-analogous conventional forces for prompt movement forward in the event of crises or armed conflicts.

The combination of persistently forward U.S. forces and the demonstrated U.S. ability to surge massed conventional forces reinforced allied and partner military—and therefore political—confidence in America. This in turn supported U.S. employment of its diplomatic, economic, and informational elements of national power to contain and counter adversaries’ influence. All the while, the U.S. employed a subset of forces for the direct defense of the American homeland. U.S. defense strategy during the Cold War did not need to explicitly define the existence of Contact, Blunt, Surge, and Homeland layer functions—each was self-evident.

December 14, 1986 — An overhead view of Battle Group Charlie underway in formation, with nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS CARL VINSON (CVN-70) in the center of the group. (Photo by PH2 Protz, via U.S. National Archives)

The Cold War analogy also shows how the Blunt, Surge, and Homeland functions are latent—they only become active in the event of adversary attack. The Blunt layer’s functions are most important for shaping competitor perceptions of the military balances in priority theaters, both day-to-day and as augmented by bomber strikes, airborne force insertions, and other Blunt-layer type capabilities that can be promptly brought to bear from afar. The Soviets used the term “correlation of forces” to define how they calculated theater as well as strategic military balances in reference to their wartime prospects; the contemporary Russian General Staff uses an expanded framework that includes estimates of the “military-political situation” and perhaps additional metrics for much the same purpose.6 It is unclear whether the Chinese People’s Liberation Army employs frameworks analogous to the correlation of forces or the military-political situation, but elements of both may be present within the Chinese concept of measuring “comprehensive national power” (CNP), and force balances likely factor significantly within PLA operations research activities.7

PHILIPPINE SEA (April 4, 2021) Cmdr. Robert J. Briggs and Cmdr. Richard D. Slye monitor surface contacts, including PLA Navy aircraft carrier Liaoning (pictured), from the pilothouse of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Arthur Rosen)

In contrast, Contact layer functions are active every day. Much of the Contact function occurs at the “front” in priority theaters. For the Navy-Marine Corps team, this includes theater exercises that demonstrate blunting prowess, allied/partner solidarity, or force capabilities.18 It includes naval forces’ collection of information that can be publicly disseminated to shine a spotlight on adversaries’ malign activities and undermine their propaganda efforts.9 It includes routinized Navy freedom of navigation operations that challenge adversaries’ illegal claims over territories and water or airspace.10 It includes naval support to U.S. diplomatic operations, for example port calls in select, prioritized locations in theater that provide opportunities to demonstrate U.S. naval capabilities—and professionalism—to allied and partner leaders, both national and local, in government and in civil society.11 Contact functions include naval operations designed to frustrate adversaries’ efforts at sub-conventional employment of military or paramilitary forces to achieve objectives through ‘salami slicing.’12 Additionally, forward naval forces can seamlessly transition from active execution of Contact layer functions to latent execution of Blunt layer functions—or the inverse.

Further underscoring the point that the Contact function is not anchored to location, note the historical examples provided by the Navy’s attack submarines during the Cold War when they routinely trailed Soviet submarines in the open ocean.13 Soviet political and military leaders’ comprehension of their submarines’ acoustic inferiority likely contributed to diminished confidence in Soviet prospects in a war with the West. It also drove them to invest in significant undersea warfare capabilities the Soviet economy could not sustainably afford.14 Most significantly, if a war had erupted, U.S. attack submarines performing Contact layer functions in the open ocean could have promptly shifted to perform Blunt (or Homeland) layer functions by neutralizing the Soviet submarines they trailed or other targets, if so ordered.

A unit or force grouping’s ability to rapidly transition between functions illustrates how the GOM enables U.S. forces, and especially naval forces, to support deterrence and strategic competition simultaneously. This is especially the case for forward forces. A particular forward naval unit might take minutes, hours, or days to alter its posture or positioning such that it is optimized for performing Contact or Blunt layer functions. But even while it is emphasizing one layer’s functions over the other, it is still able to contribute to both. For instance, even a solitary small surface combatant conducting Contact layer functions in the South China Sea—such as placing itself in the vicinity of Chinese maritime forces harassing allied or partner maritime forces operating within international waters, filming and uploading video of the incident to the global internet, and perhaps even interposing itself—supports deterrence if it is supported by Blunt layer forces. This lone ship could be latently supported by other naval and Joint Forces, some deliberately detectable and others not readily detectable, so that Chinese leaders would know attacking the ship would ignite a process of escalation whose costs and risks would be assuredly higher for Beijing than any benefits an attack might provide. This is but one example of how conventional deterrence, intelligently applied and structured, can support efforts to counter sub-conventional coercion.

With intelligent allocation of U.S. forward forces in a theater between Contact and Blunt functions, using a diversity of unit stationing and postures informed by extant circumstances and assessments of adversary leaders’ mindsets, Geographic Combatant Commanders and their Joint component commanders can use Blunt layer forces to cover Contact layer forces and bolster deterrence. The inverse is also true: commanders can use Contact layer operations to incrementally set and shape the theater to increase prospects for wartime Blunt and Surge layer operational success if deterrence were ever to fail.

In Part 2, we will outline the strategic importance of forward “competition operations” to deterrence. We will also identify the necessary attributes for naval forces operating in the Contact and Blunt layers, as well as factors that strategists should consider when thinking about such operations. We will conclude with some thoughts regarding the GOM’s overarching implications for future naval strategy and force employment.

Paul Lyons is a Principal Policy Analyst at Systems Planning and Analysis (SPA), Inc. and a former Surface Warfare Officer with four command-at-sea tours in the Pacific. He previously served as Branch Head for Global Policy and Posture within the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and as the Navy’s lead maritime strategist within the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s 2018 NDS Core Team.

Jon Solomon is a Principal Policy Analyst at SPA, Inc. and a former Surface Warfare Officer.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the authors and are presented in a personal capacity. These views do not reflect the official positions of SPA, Inc., and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency.


1. “Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America.” Office of the Secretary of Defense, January 2018; Pg1-2.

2. “Defense Budget Overview: United States Department of Defense FY2019 Budget Request.” Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) Chief Financial Officer, 13 February 2018; Ch2 Pg6. This source, on the same cited page, also refers to an additional “foundational layer” that provides the “nuclear; cyber; space; command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and strategic mobility capabilities” that underwrite the other four layers. The “foundational layer” is clearly functional.

3. Elbridge Colby. “Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Implementation of the National Defense Strategy.” 29 January 2019; Pg6.

4. Jim Mitre. “A Eulogy for the Two War Construct.” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 41 No. 4 (Winter 2019), Pg13-15.

5. The decline in fleet size is documented at “U.S. Ship Force Levels: 2000-Present.” Navy History and Heritage Command, For examples of how the decline in fleet size and unrelenting Geographic Combatant Commander demand for ships affected Navy operational tempo and readiness during this period, see 1. Andrew Scutro. “Staying At Sea: 2 Strike Groups Extended; More Long Deployments May Follow.” Navy Times, 28 September 2009; 2. Chris Cavas. “Frequent Deployments Take Toll: Quick-response policy fatiguing Navy’s fleet.” Navy Times, 04 October 2010; 3. Sam Fellman. “CNO: High Op Tempo Straining Fleet, Crises keep carriers, other ships at sea.” Navy Times, 08 October 2012.

6. See Clint Reach, Vikram Kilambi, and Mark Cozad. “Russian Assessments and Applications of the Correlation of Forces and Means.” Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2020; Pg. 10-11, 24-25, 104.

7. See 1. Eric Heginbotham. “China Maritime Report No. 14: Chinese Views of the Military Balance in the Western Pacific.” U.S. Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, June 2021,, Pg3-5; 2. Timothy Thomas. “The Chinese Way of War: How Has it Changed?” Mitre Corporation, June 2020, Pg71-73.

8. For authoritative examinations of historical examples of contact layer functions in practice, see the U.S. Navy’s side in John Lehman. Oceans Ventured: Winning the Cold War at Sea. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2018; and the Soviet side in Maksim Tokarev. “Kamikazes: The Soviet Legacy.” U.S. Naval War College Review, Vol. 61 No. 1 (Winter 2014),

9. For examples, see the articles and imbedded videos at 1. Brad Lendon, Ivan Watson, and Ben Westcott. “‘Leave immediately’: US Navy plane warned over South China Sea.” CNN, 23 August 2018,; and 2. Luis Martinez. “Chinese warship came within 45 yards of USS Decatur in South China Sea: US.” ABC News, 01 October 2018, Selective embedding of independent media aboard U.S. ships and aircraft during such operations can dramatically illustrate Chinese and Russian malign maritime actions to American and international audiences, as well as highlight U.S. professionalism and resolve in protecting American vital interests—including allied and partner security. Moreover, they can demonstrate U.S. capability and resolve to compete in the “information environment.”

10. For examples, see 1. “7th Fleet conducts Freedom of Navigation Operation.” Office of the Chief of Naval Information, 12 July 2021,; 2. Diana Stancy Correll. “Destroyer McCain conducts FONOP in Sea of Japan; Russia claims it led to a tussle with one of its destroyers.” Navy Times, 24 November 2020,

11. Authors’ personal experiences on many occasions while forward deployed during their active duty services.

12. For example, see Ben Werner. “Maritime Standoff Between China And Malaysia Winding Down.” U.S. Naval Institute News, 13 May 2020, The “salami-slicing” metaphor was popularized by Thomas Schelling in his book Arms and Influence. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966, Pg66–69, 77–78.

13. For example, see “Cold War Cat and Mouse, Part II.” Submarine Force and Library and Museum Association, 13 May 2014,

14. This conclusion derives from evidence such as authoritative Soviet acknowledgements of U.S. undersea advantage and its strategic implications in “Soviet Perceptions of U.S. Naval Strategy.” Central Intelligence Agency Office of Soviet Analysis, July 1986, Pg8-13; and from a quote attributed to former Soviet General Vladimir Dvorkin that in 1986 Soviet Northern Fleet leadership informed CPSU General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev that the Soviet Northwestern Theater of Operations could not be successfully defended against the U.S. Navy in the event of war. See Lehman, Pg200-201.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA Sept. 25, 2020) USS Shiloh (CG 67), front, USS America (LHA 6), USS Antietam (CG 54), USS Germantown (LSD 42) and USNS Sacagawea (T-AKE 2), steam in formation with the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), in support of Valiant Shield 2020. (U.S. Navy video by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erica Bechard)

The CIMSEC Sea Control 2021 Holiday Reading List

By the CIMSEC Sea Control Podcast Team

Aloha Shipmates! We at the CIMSEC Sea Control Podcast have put our heads together to come up with a 2021 Holiday Reading List. We’ve chosen books that we read and loved, and books that we’re looking forward to reading next year. Enjoy!


Dmitry Filipoff
CIMSEC Director of Online Content

The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life by David Brooks

Brooks has been writing and speaking for years on how individuals discover meaning in their lives and find fulfillment. Philosophical, yet practical and well-grounded in extensive social sciences research, The Second Mountain offers concrete insights into how one can make meaning of their pursuits and redefine their purpose. Brooks dives into specific and fundamental methods of how meaning can be derived, such as through building community, viewing life as a moral struggle, and making sense of individualism and to what extent it can be helpful or self-defeating. Excellently written and candidly delivered, The Second Mountain will enhance self-awareness around some of the most profound concerns of both individuals and societies. 

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguen

A Vietnamese double agent is evacuated to the United States soon after the fall of Saigon, embedding himself into the expat community while faithfully still executing espionage. But while serving as the aide-de-camp to a plotting South Vietnamese general, the sympathizer is torn by questions of identity that return time and time again in his exploits. Northerner or Southerner? Half-white or half-Vietnamese? Victorious revolutionary or dejected exile? The sympathizer deftly navigates both American and Vietnamese society while securing personal bonds against destruction and pursuing his clandestine mission. But how will his conscience evolve in the face of mounting tragedies and double crosses? In this masterfully written work that earned the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, author Viet Thanh Nguyen tells an engrossing tale of torn identity, post-war malaise, and moral tribulation.

The Battle for Leyte Gulf at 75: A Retrospective, Edited by Thomas J. Cutler

The Battle of Leyte Gulf was the last true fleet combat engagement between great powers, and one of the largest naval battles in history. The Japanese and American navies faced off in this climatic engagement toward the end of WWII, and by the end, the Imperial Japanese Navy ceased to exist as a credible fighting force. With no shortage of what-ifs and alternatives, the battle itself was a series of major clashes, deceptions, and controversial command decisions on both sides. In this book edited by Tom Cutler, renowned naval historians analyze and dissect this fascinating battle in all its complexity and scale. The result is a highly insightful work on a historic fleet combat engagement, and a must-read for navalists.

Jared Samuelson
Sea Control Host

The Fall and Rise of French Sea Power: France’s Quest for an Independent Naval Policy, 1940-1963 by Hugues Canuel

This follows the French Navy from its nadir in the smoke and wreckage of Mers-el-Kébir on 3 July 1940, its growth into a mix of French, British and captured Italian and German vessels over the course of World War II, and its gradual reconstruction, in part via NATO funding. Stick around for the notes and bibliography where you’ll find a wealth of NATO history references, and then listen to Sea Control 268 for an interview with the author and Dr. Brian Chao, who compares the French Navy’s rise to China and the PLAN.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

I don’t make enough time for fiction, but there is a space reserved for the release of every new Kate Quinn novel. Writing aside, I enjoy learning about a piece of history I hadn’t previously encountered. In the case of The Huntress, you’ll be introduced to the Night Witches, the women pilots who served as flying artillery supporting the Red Army during the Second World War.   

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

Say Nothing appeared on a slew of “best of” lists when it was released in 2019. It explores the disappearance of Jean McConville, a mother of ten who disappeared in December 1972. It is part mystery, part sprawling history of The Troubles from the highest political levels to individual bullet-riddled buildings in the streets of Belfast. 

Voices from the Shoreline: The Ancient and Ingenious Traditions of Coastal Fishing by Mike Smiley

I requested a review copy expecting to find a highly technical description of shoreline fishing techniques. While the book contains excellent descriptions of every method British fishermen have used to bring in salmon and herring over the centuries, it reads like a travelogue. Each chapter is filled with interviews conducted while the author traversed Britain’s west coast fishing towns. The fisherfolk and their slowly dying lifestyle are as much in focus as any specific net type.

Walker Mills
Sea Control Host and CIMSEC Associate Editor

Alpha: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Soul of the Navy Seals by David Philipps

This new book by Pulitzer-winning, investigative journalist David Philipps not only details the infamous Eddie Gallagher trial and his murder of an ISIS detainee in Mosul, but also the deployment that led up to it. Philipps reconstructs the deployment from interviews with SEALs and other personnel who were there and paints a clear picture of a leadership crisis and an elite culture gone wrong. I found the book to be absolutely riveting and it should be required reading for junior officers.

The Tastes of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food by Lizzie Collingham

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while now, but I was finally convinced to read it cover to cover by an essay in Strategy Bridge. I had admittedly been pilfering it for primary sources about Guadalcanal…But the book is fascinating and covers an aspect of conflict that most Americans don’t consider, yet one that could be increasingly important – especially with sea resource depletion and conflicts over fisheries.


Developing the Naval Mind by Benjamin F. Armstrong and John Freymann

As someone who has written about and promoted more naval-focused education for Marines, this is absolutely on my list to read in 2022. I’m eager to read it based on the strength of Armstrong’s Small Boats and Daring Men (which also made the list), and his other writing which we’ve been fortunate to cover on the Sea Control Podcast.

Marie Williams
Sea Control Editor

Nothing is Impossible: America’s Reconciliation with Vietnam by Ted Osius

This account of the veteran-led U.S.-Vietnamese reconciliation in the 1990s, and of the famous John McCain-John Kerry friendship, got me rethinking what (I thought) I knew about ‘big wins’ in diplomacy, and what patriotism, duty, and trust-building mean in practice. Also, as Southeast Asia is increasingly a site of U.S.-Chinese strategic competition, this book is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the legacy of U.S. military engagement in the region, and the importance of military-to-military relationships going forward.


The New Rules of War: Victory in the Age of Durable Disorder by Sean McFate

According to Adm. James Stavridis (ret.) McFate is “a new Sun Tzu.”

Anna McNeil
Sea Control Host

The Great Pacific War: A History of the American-Japanese Campaign of 1931-33 by Hector C. Bywater

Fascinating to think that whether by correlation or causation, this book predicted many of the events of WWII’s War in the Pacific with great accuracy. Writing a whole campaign plan on the basis of a fiction book…surely it is simply not done?!

2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis

I have immense respect for Admiral Stavridis and his ability to interpret the trends of today and project them into the future. If imagination is the key to avoiding strategic surprise, then fiction is the best vehicle by which to deliver the bad news. Also check out our Sea Control 247 where we interviewed the authors!

The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone

Finally! A book about Elizebeth Smith Friedman — a linguist, a cryptologist before it was cool, and she worked for the Coast Guard while we were still under the Department of Treasury. She and her husband, William, worked on some of the most important codes of their time. Nothing reads like the life and times of true heroes. This won NPR’s Best Book of the Year.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

One of my classic favorites, I’m recommending this based on current relevance, it being where the re-branded Facebook name Meta comes from. I’ve read a lot of books written in the cyberpunk genre, and this one was my first; it is the measure against which I compare all others. Not only does it have the Metaverse, but you’ve got a pizza delivery racket run by the Italian mob, levitating skater punks and self-aware robot dogs. Good times. Enjoy!

William McQuiston
Sea Control Editor

Missile Contagion: Cruise Missile Proliferation and the Threat to International Security by Dennis M. Gormley

In the wake of the most recent North Korean long-range cruise missile test and the rapid spread of smaller loitering munitions I found it helpful to sit down with a copy of Dennis Gormley’s prescient 2008 warning.  Dennis Gormley aptly describes the incentives and mechanisms by which cruise missile technology has rapidly spread among smaller regional powers.

Hawaiki Rising: Hōkūle‘a, Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian Renaissance by Sam Low

Hawaiki Rising is an engrossing history of the men and women behind Hōkūle‘a, the modern recreation of a traditional Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe which preserved the fading knowledge of traditional Polynesian navigation techniques and helped kick off the Hawaiian Renaissance. Particularly interesting are the traditional Polynesian navigation techniques which allowed Hōkūle‘a to sail from Hawai‘i to Tahiti without the use of any modern navigational aids.

Joshua Groover
Sea Control Editor

Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare, and the Early American Navy by Benjamin “B.J.” Armstrong

In Small Boats and Daring Men, Armstrong argues that traditional historical methods of thinking about naval strategy as a “bifurcated structure” focused on guerre de course (attacks on enemy commerce) and guerre d’escadre (naval war by fleet and warship battles) are incomplete. He proposes guerre de razzia (war by raiding) as the missing component and demonstrates its applicability through an analysis of eight events from the early history of the U.S. Navy including the raids of John Paul Jones, the Barbary and Quasi Wars, the War of 1812, and the US expedition to Sumatra. As a newcomer to naval strategy, I enjoyed the book because Armstrong makes a compelling argument for his case while telling a good story of the events.


War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, by Edward S. Miller

19 Stars: A Study in Military Character and Leadership, by Edgar D. Puryear, Jr. 

Jonathon Frerichs
Sea Control Host

On Operations: Operational Art and Military Disciplines by B. A. Friedman

On Operations is a fantastic follow-up to Friedman‘s On Tactics. He concisely, yet thoroughly, explores the historical origins of the “operational level of war” while simultaneously challenging its very existence. He clearly frames out his challenge to the concept and proposes instead a focus on the application of operational art — the staff work that connects tactics to strategy. A fun read for any military practitioner. You can also check out our interview with Friedman and Tim Heck about their edited volume on amphibious operations On Contested Shores in Sea Control 220.

To Boldly Go: Leadership, Strategy, and Conflict in the 21st Century and Beyond edited by Jonathan Klug and Steven Leonard

This book is the perfect mix of fictional intelligence and envisioned futures of military conflict. The two editors miraculously string together over 25 short stories from a variety of authors — all connected through the framework of military-themed topics of leadership, strategy and conflict. Naval themes resonate throughout the book — making it a must-read for any naval enthusiast. Lastly, there are Easter Eggs galore throughout — I challenge any reader to read it straight through without jumping on Google to discover one of the Easter Eggs. 

Ed Salo
Sea Control Editor

The ‘Stan by Kevin Knodell, David Axe, and Blue Delliquanti, and Machete Squad, by Brent Dulk, Kevin Knodell, David Axe, and Per Darwin Berg

While we think of books that help us to understand war and its consequences, we do not always look at comic books or graphic novels. These two graphic novels that came out in 2018, but that I finally read this year, provide insight into our nation’s 20 year war in Afghanistan in a way that is accessible. The ‘Stan provides illustrated portrayals of interviews with everyone from a
Taliban member, to refugees, to combat troops. Machete Squad is a memoir of a combat medic, and it tells the story of those on the ground. I highly recommend both of these graphic novels.

Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe by Kathy Peiss

Kathy Peiss examines efforts of U.S. librarians and archivists during the Second World War, first to gather open source intelligence, and then to gather and preserve books, manuscripts, and other sources during the war and post-war periods to build the Library of Congress and other research collections across the nation. Peiss’ book is a joy to read. It is the perfect companion piece for Robert Edsel’s The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History or Joshua Hammer’s The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts, which also dealt with efforts to save important manuscripts during a more recent war. The book has a place on the book shelf of anyone interested in intelligence gathering, library science, and the power of information warfare.

Andrea Howard
Sea Control Host

While this book is military-forward in outlining the creation of wargaming, the evolution of its purpose, and its lasting impact on military doctrine, Caffrey interweaves his wit and non-military applications throughout this comprehensive history. His research also extends into the realm of civilian and commercial wargaming utility.
The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History by Alexander Mikaberidze
In his coverage of the Napoleonic Wars, Mikaberidze looks beyond the normal lenses, which typically focus on famous battles (from Austerlitz to Waterloo) or Napoleon’s persona. This book gracefully also captures the global context in which the French Revolutions and subsequent warfare transpired, and he expertly blends interactions at the domestic and international levels.

New this year, this book avoids the trap of oversimplifying Russian politics down to unique Russian culture or the cult of personality that is President Vladimir Putin. Instead, Frye drives home the role of Russian public opinion on the complex tradeoffs made by Moscow, paralleling other governments like Venezuela, Turkey, and Hungary.


That’s all the books for now. On behalf of CIMSEC, we wish you a safe and happy holiday season!

Featured Image: Image: Africa Studio/