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Entering the Bear’s Lair: Russia’s A2/AD Bubble in the Baltic Sea

The following article originally featured on The National Interest and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here

By Bret Perry

On the cold, cloudy afternoon of March 18th, 2018, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and its Amphibious Readiness Group steamed through the Baltic Sea about 100 miles south of the Swedish island of Gotland, just west of Lithuania and Latvia. With its full squadron of three amphibious assault ships, including the USS Bataan Landing Helicopter Dock, and three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, this impressive US military presence in the Baltic Sea was unprecedented. In response to unusual Russian military activity near Estonia, including the presence of ‘little green men’ in the border town of Narva, the new White House administration was determined to send a message to Moscow.

Two US Marine Corps F-35Bs, flown by call sign Yukon and his wingman Zeus, surged off the deck of the USS Bataan to conduct a combat air patrol (CAP) to reinforce the NATO presence in the area. Banking south, Yukon heard the NATO E-3 Sentry Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) operator Showboat say through his thick Dutch accent, “Yukon, Showboat, you have a pop-up group of two Bogeys, Bullseye 207 degrees for 150 kilometers, 1,300 meters.”

“Copy, Showboat. Intercepting,” Yukon responded as he throttled his jet up to Mach 1.6. Another aggressive Russian flyby, he thought.

About four minutes later, Yukon and Zeus had positioned their aircraft about 250 feet behind the two Su-30SM Flanker-C bandits. But unlike previous intercepts of Russian fighter over Baltic Sea, the Su-30s were clearly armed with more than the typical, short range Archer (R-73) air-to-air missiles.

“Zeus, any idea what they’re carrying?” Yukon asked his wingman.

“Negative, but they’re not playing around today,” she responded.

“Copy. Take a closer look for me.”

“Roger,” Zeus responded. She slowly began to creep her aircraft closer to the Su-30 on the left.

“Showboat, Yukon, tally-ho on two Flanker-Cs. We think…” Yukon’s voice trailed off as he watched a disaster unfold in an instant.

As Zeus approached the bandits, one of the Su-30s tried to barrel-roll over her F-35B. But as Zeus held steady 100 feet from the Flankers, the Su-30 pilot misjudged the maneuver, and slammed the Russian jet into the right wing of Zeus’ F-35B. The wing snapped off, sending Zeus spinning, while the Su-30 pitched over into a nosedive.

“Eject! Eject! Eject!” Zeus yelled into the radio.

In response to the chaos, the remaining Su-30 banked right, and bugged out. When Yukon looked to his left, he felt relief and horror at what he saw.

He could see Zeus’ parachute. But… there was no sign of the Russian pilot.

Although the aforementioned vignette is fictional, it captures the increasingly worrisome military implications of Russia’s posture in Kaliningrad. The presence of Russian ground, naval, and air forces in Kaliningrad is not new, but Russia has essentially transformed the tiny area into a major “pop-up” Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) zone from what had been a Cold War-era Soviet outpost. Despite traditionally being associated with the Asia-Pacific or even the Persian Gulf, Russia’s deployments in Kaliningrad reflect the potential for the emergence of localized A2/AD zones in Europe. Not only is A2/AD now a critical component in European security dynamics, but it is also a global phenomenon that has truly ‘broken out’ of the Pacific’s First Island Chain. With NATO’s eyes on the defense of its Baltic members and a growing view that Poland is NATO’s new center of gravity in the East, a Kaliningrad A2/AD zone projects advanced ground, naval, and air threats, creating significant security challenges.

Range rings of Russian missile systems in Kaliningrad. (Avascent)

Achieving Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) and air dominance is a critical component in countering A2/AD zones. Although Russia’s defense industry faces challenges with upgrading the state’s fighter fleet, both the Russian Aerospace Forces and Russian Naval Aviation possess formidable 4G and 4.5G tactical aircraft capable of executing advanced air-to-air combat and challenging NATO’s air dominance. In Kaliningrad, two Naval Aviation fighter regiments maintain several squadrons of Su-27 fighters and Su-24 bombers out of two separate air bases. As Russian Naval Aviation purchases at least 50 new Su-30SMs by 2020, the forward deployment of these units to Kaliningrad would significantly sharpen Russia’s sword in the Baltic airspace. Specifically, Kaliningrad’s position provides Russian forces with the ability to scramble their tactical aircraft within close proximity to NATO forces while under the protection of extensive Russian air-defense systems.

15 minutes later, Yukon continued circling, waiting for the other Su-30SM to return and hamper the USS Bataan’s search and rescue efforts. Suddenly, he heard Showboat shout over the radio.

“Unidentified track, Bullseye 163 degrees for 380 kilometers, 2,300 meters, hot!”

Yukon saw the new contact marked by Showboat on his Tactical Situation Display (TSD) located on the front left of his F-35B’s cockpit. It was tagged as unknown, but moving rapidly across the screen at 4,500 mph towards Showboat. Yukon’s gut told him something was wrong, so he quickly switched his APG-81 radar onto “active” mode.

In a second, the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar on Yukon’s F-35B scanned the object and autonomously identified it as a Russian 40N6 missile. As the F-35B’s datalink automatically transferred its identification to Showboat’s AWACS and other forces in the area, he said, “Showboat, Yukon, Bullseye, 230 degrees for 340 kilometers, 5,000 meters, SAM launch! Break left! Break left!”  

But the 40N6 surface-to-air missile (SAM), flying at over 4,500 mph, was too fast.

Within 10 seconds, Yukon heard Showboat shout “Break…Mayday! Mayday! May…!” All what was left was static. On his TSD, the icon denoting Showboat’s AWACS was gone from his display.

Launched from an S-400 “Growler” SAM launcher near the small coastal town of Yantarny in Kaliningrad, the 40N6 missile is a long-range weapon with an active- and semi-active seeker designed to destroy high-value targets, such as AWACS, electronic warfare, and other special mission aircraft. In 2012, Russia began outfitting at least two battalions in Kaliningrad with its new S-400 SAM system. The S-400s joined Kaliningrad’s S-300 SAMs, also an important threat.

Moscow’s deployment of S-400 missiles to Kaliningrad was key in transforming the outpost into an effective A2/AD zone. With a maximum range of 250 miles (although the system most likely can only detect advanced stealth aircraft with much smaller radar cross-sections, such as the F-22, at closer ranges), Kaliningrad’s S-400s are capable of turning the airspace over much of the Baltic Sea, Latvia, Lithuania, and half of Poland (including the capital, Warsaw), into a no-fly zone at the flip of a switch. General Frank Gorenc, the commander of US Air Forces in Europe, explained that Moscow’s SAMs and other systems “creates areas that are very tough to get into.” Although an assortment of stealth aircraft, electronic warfare capabilities, and long-range strike weapons can neutralize the S-400, strikes in Kaliningrad carry strategic consequences due to the risk of Russian escalation, ultimately making the suppression of enemy air defenses a complex challenge.

Without Showboat, Yukon and the naval forces accompanying the 22nd MEU were in the dark without any early warning capability. Yukon’s F-35B acted as the eyes and ears of the fleet with its AESA radar. But as he was miles south of the MEU and the closest AWACS replacement was in Germany, the decision was made to have one of the escort destroyers turn on its radar’s “active” mode. This decision would give away the MEU’s precise location, but was necessary to establish a 360-degree view of the deteriorating situation.

The USS Truxtun powered on its SPY-1D radar and Mk 99 fire control system to restore awareness. Although the Truxtun could now detect targets over 100 miles away, Yukon’s F-35B continued to play a role with its powerful AESA radar.

But within a minute of firing up its radar, “Overlord,” Truxtun’s operations specialist announced “10 unidentified tracks, Bullseye 187 degrees for 280 kilometers, and closing fast.”

Yukon looked down on his TSD and saw the unidentified tracks appear near the top edge of the screen. They were moving quickly down the display at an angle towards the MEU, but not as fast as the S-400 missile’s earlier observed path. At the current pace, they would reach the fleet in about 410 seconds. Yukon banked his plane and burned towards the unknown contacts.

About a minute later, Yukon’s AESA radar picked up all ten of the contacts, identifying them as P-800 Oniks anti-ship cruise missiles. The F-35B’s computer immediately transmitted the data to the Truxtun and other NATO forces in the immediate area. Within less than a second, the Truxton’s AEGIS Combat System processed the threat information and autonomously launched 20 SM-2 SAMs towards the incoming Oniks missiles, targeting each Oniks with two SM-2s.

Yukon burned towards the Oniks missiles, prepared to intercept. But Overlord was wary of Yukon going “winchester,” or running out of missiles, especially if additional Russian aircraft emerged.

About 150 seconds later, the Truxton’s SM-2s reached the incoming Oniks missiles. Four of the missiles struck their targets, but debris from their impact knocked the Truxton’s remaining SAMs off course. Detecting its error, the Truxton’s AEGIS system automatically launched 12 new SM-2s towards the remaining Oniks missiles.

“Overlord” ordered Yukon to engage one of the Oniks even though they were nearly out of range. The nervousness in Overlord’s voice was unmistakable. Yukon acknowledged the command, responding with “Fox Three” as one of his AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) dropped out of the F-35B’s weapons bay, firing towards the Oniks.

90 seconds later, the Truxton’s second wave of SM-2s reached the remaining Oniks missiles. They knocked two Oniks missiles out of the sky, but four more remained. 10 seconds later, Yukon’s AMRAAM smashed into an Oniks, leaving three. The Truxton’s AEGIS Combat System immediately launched six of its RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow Missiles, which were tailored to counter supersonic maneuvering anti-ship missiles such as the Oniks.

Within 60 seconds, the RIM-162s found their targets. Two of the Oniks were hit, but a sudden last-minute maneuver by the last Russian missile kept it airborne.

10 seconds later, this final missile struck the Truxton’s bow at supersonic speeds, delivering a crippling blow to the American warship.

Responsible for launching the Oniks, the K-300P Bastion is one of the most advanced anti-ship cruise missile systems fielded. With a range of 186 miles, this system is capable of launching supersonic missiles that can fly as low as 15 feet and conduct evasive maneuvers to counter a target’s anti-missile defenses. Impressed by its capabilities, Russian and Indian engineers used the Bastion’s P-800 Oniks missiles to form the basis for the jointly-developed BrahMos, the world’s fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation. Essentially, the Bastion not only lets its operators engage distant naval targets, but also allows them to launch advanced missiles capable of overwhelming sophisticated anti-air defenses systems.

Although Russia has not yet equipped its coastal missile regiment based in Kaliningrad with the advanced Bastion anti-ship missile system (the regiment in Kaliningrad is reportedly deployed with the less advanced SSC-1 ‘Sepal’ missiles), the aforementioned scenario is important as it still showcases how easily Russia can assemble the necessary elements in Kaliningrad to deny access to the Baltic Sea. Further, as Moscow already decided to deploy the Bastion to controversial areas, such as the Kuril Islands in the Pacific, and Crimea in the Black Sea, Kaliningrad forces could also soon be armed with the Bastion as Moscow continues to pursue A2/AD in Europe. Coastal missile forces aside, Kaliningrad’s three diesel-electric submarines, two destroyers, and assortment of smaller vessels provide Russian forces with enough maritime power to contest a NATO naval presence in the Baltic Sea. As commander of US Army Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, explained, Russia “could make it very difficult for any of us [US] to get up into the Baltic Sea if we needed to in a contingency.”

About 25 minutes later, Yukon was about 50 miles north of Kaliningrad, flying low. Miles behind him, five other F-35Bs had taken off from the Bataan and were en route to join him.

It was time to strike back.

But Yukon and his fellow Marine aviators would not be leading the strike. That was the job for the Polish Air Force.

Committed to NATO, Poland activated contingency plans to scramble a squadron of F-16s to conduct a Strike/CAP tasking soon after Showboat’s F-35B went down. In response to heavy usage, Poland had just upgraded its F-16s to be some of the most advanced aircraft of that type anywhere. Equipped with AESA radars, a next-gen datalink pod, and advanced strike munitions, the Polish F-16s would deliver the punch against Russian forces in Kaliningrad.

Specifically, the Polish F-16s were equipped with AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) that could strike targets as far as 230 miles away. The Polish squadron was split into two, flying “nap-of-the-earth” to avoid Kaliningrad’s Growler SAMs. In support were Bataan’s F-35Bs, which would engage any Russian air threats with their AMRAAM missiles and jam their sensors and communications with their electronic warfare systems. Since Yukon was closer to Kaliningrad, he would provide the Polish pilots with targeting information via a secure next-gen datalink that wouldn’t give away their positions, unlike legacy Link-16 systems. At this point, his AESA radar was switched to passive mode, allowing the stealthy F-35B to fly undetected towards Kaliningrad.

When Yukon was 45 miles from the shore, still unseen by Russian radar operators, he powered on his advanced Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS). Since the miniaturized EOTS sensor was built into the F-35’s nose, he didn’t have to worry about the sensor eroding his aircraft’s stealth profile. On the screen Yukon steered towards the target into a “bump-up” position.

Yukon’s display showed several Growler SAM’s in their “slanted-E” revetments. He was about to confirm the target when he noticed something else—a skinny object standing up.

It was an Iskander “Stone” transporter erector launcher (TEL) in firing position.

The Iskander, also referred to as the SS-26, is a modern short-range ballistic missile system capable of launching missiles with conventional high-explosive fragmentation warheads, fuel-air explosives, bunker buster, and electromagnetic pulse payloads. Additionally, the Iskander’s maximum range of 310 miles makes it a potent system. But the Iskander’s most lethal trait is its ability to launch nuclear warheads with as much power as 50,000 tons of TNT.

In 2015, Russia began rotating its newest Iskander-M systems in Kaliningrad in response to NATO’s renewed commitment to Eastern European defense. Moscow may permanently deploy the missiles to Kaliningrad by the end of the decade. Also troubling, some NATO partners believe that Moscow is secretly stockpiling tactical nuclear warheads in Kaliningrad for use atop the Iskanders. The Kaliningrad deployments were a surprise as Moscow previously used threats to position these missiles in Kaliningrad as a bargaining tool to reduce NATO’s European missile defense deployments. Even though the Iskander is just a tactical missile system, its deployment in Kaliningrad has strategic implications for NATO attempts to “deflate” an A2/AD bubble there. With or without nuclear warheads, Kaliningrad’s Iskanders have the ability to strike an array of key NATO positions in the Baltics. Morever, the confusion whether an Iskander system is armed with conventional or nuclear payloads by itself could foul NATO’s crisis decision making.

40 minutes later, Yukon was just a couple miles away from “Banker,” a Dutch KC-10 Extender aerial refueling tanker aircraft. The joint USMC-Polish retaliatory strike had been called off as pressure from several NATO partners and other states forced the US to step back and resolve the crisis diplomatically. The Russian propaganda machine was in full swing, asserting that its Kaliningrad forces acted entirely in self-defense. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Vorshevsky claimed that Zeus deliberately crashed her F-35B into the Russian Su-30 and that Kaliningrad’s military commanders had no choice but to launch “a couple” Oniks missiles when the “trespassing” US forces turned on their fire control systems. Vorshevsky’s comments were retweeted and broadcasted around the world.

Waiting to refuel from the Dutch tanker, Yukon reflected on how close he’d come to attacking Russian forces. All he could think about was that he’d back up flying a CAP the next day and who knew what the Russians had in store tomorrow.

Again, this scenario is fictional and some liberties were taken for narrative purposes. As well, the reality of such a scenario unfolding would be even more complex, especially in the political domain. But the point that US forces will struggle to maneuver in new European A2/AD bubbles is unquestionable.

“Popping” Russia’s European A2/AD bubbles wherever they may be established is ultimately a tough challenge without easy answers for NATO. Purely surging an overwhelming amount of force into the bubble is simply not feasible due to resource constraints and the risk that Russia would respond with tactical nuclear weapons. However, by making its forces more survivable, the US and NATO allies can naturally degrade the potential effectiveness of Russia’s A2/AD zones and establish some credible level of conventional deterrence.

There are examples worth considering for inspiration, such as the US Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) capability. NIFC-CA is a US Navy concept using an array of advanced data links to transform a carrier air wing and carrier battle group into a larger network of distributed ‘sensors’ and ”shooters.” Created to counter the air-breathing threat elements of Chinese A2/AD in the Asia-Pacific, NIFCA-CA is a redundant, “networked-enhanced” system capable of functioning even if a handful of sensors are neutralized or jammed. Essentially in NIFC-CA, every aircraft and destroyer is linked directly to each other to make the force more survivable.

A NIFC-CA-like capability scaled for the European theater is a crucial step for defeating Russia’s European A2/AD bubbles through neutralizing air-breathers and broadly enabling more effective air operations. Simply, NATO cannot expect to conduct SEAD, CAS, or other types of air operations to ‘pop’ Russia’s A2/AD bubble without removing the air-breather threats. Although critics rightfully point to Russia’s advanced EW capabilities (as demonstrated in the Ukrainian conflict) as a key challenge, this only reinforces the need for NATO to invest in a more networked, resilient force.

The “NATO Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air” concept must be service agonistic (e.g., not just a Navy concept, but inclusive of Air Force assets as well) as conflict in the European theater will not solely revolve around the carrier air wing; the appropriate air, naval, and relevant ground platforms should be incorporated. Furthermore, this integrated fire control concept must include the systems of non-US NATO members. In Europe, the US has partners—some of which are positioned within Russia’s emerging A2/AD bubbles—with platforms already in place that can provide immediate support. Challenges associated with information assurance, interoperability, and 5G-to-4.5G communications make developing a ‘common datalink’ a difficult task, but one that is crucial to maximize the effectiveness of NATO’s air assets.

Whether it is turning an American US Air Force F-15C/D, USMC F-35B, or Polish F-16 C/D into sensors and shooters networked directly with each other, a ‘NATO IFC-CA’ would diminish the potency of Russia’s A2/AD zones. But ultimately, Russia’s new way of operating in Europe requires the US and NATO to increase their investments in the appropriate capabilities, hone joint multinational operations through regional exercises, and most importantly, assess how their current strategy, doctrine, and tactics match up against this evolving threat.

Bret Perry is an analyst at Avascent, an aerospace and defense consulting firm. The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily reflect those of any organization.

The author would like to thank August Cole, Dominik Kimla, Alex Chang, Steve Ganyard, Jacqueline Phan, and Cate Walsh for their advice and comments.

Featured Image: S-400 Triumf air defense systems from Russia (

Naval Applications of Robotic Birds

Naval Applications of Tech

Written by Terence Bennett, Naval Applications of Tech discusses how emerging and disruptive technologies can be used to make the U.S. Navy more effective. It examines potential and evolving developments in the tech industry, communication platforms, computer software and hardware, mechanical systems, power generation, and other areas.

“The most damaging phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way!’” Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper in an interview in Information Week, March 9, 1987, p. 52

By Terence Bennett

The era of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has arrived. Phased implementation of the Navy MQ-XX program began this year through a reinvestment in the X-47B unmanned aircraft for use in aerial refueling and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). In May of this year the Navy installed the first UAV Command Center aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. These moves demonstrate the need for, and versatility of, sea-based UAVs, and may signal the beginning of a revolutionary migration in naval warfare. Large, land-based ISR UAVs have been operationally employed by the Navy since 2008 with the deployment of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator (BAMS-D). Smaller, tactical level UAVs like the Scan Eagle have been in use by the Navy since 2004. To date, all these aircraft have one thing in common: they employ traditional aircraft design to meet their requirement for high power. A new generation of biomimetic UAVs that imitate the natural flight of birds has been developed and shows promising application to Navy missions.

The U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been working on insect-inspired UAVs recently popularized in the media. Some technology, like Aerovironment’s Hummingbird, has successfully implemented the design of bird flight into UAV design. A French inventor has created another little bird, but with a maritime twist. The Bionic Bird mimics the flight and behavior of the swallow and apparently so convincingly that it attracts other swallows and predators alike. Swallows are a common symbol in Navy life because they often appear when ships near land and are thus symbols of good luck.

The Bionic Bird (

Edwin Van Ruymbeke, inventor of the $120 Bionic Bird,  proved that small, fast, and maneuverable machines can be inexpensively manufactured. The XTIM Bionic Bird is marketed as a toy, but its technology may prove useful to the Navy. One day, the Bionic Sparrow may visit ships bringing a lot more than good luck.

Using a similar approach, the German company Festo invented a larger UAV dubbed the ’Smartbird,’ which is modeled after a Herring Gull (or seagull).1 It looks surprisingly similar to a real seagull and, at a distance, could be easily disguised as one. The Smartbird’s clever engineering and lightweight design allow for its takeoff and flight to be powered entirely by the biomimicry-inspired twisting flap of its wings. The efficiency of the design is hidden in the specially-developed flapping motion, the size (6.5 foot wingspan), and the weight (1 lb) of the Smartbird. The Smartbird is powered by a 23 Watt motor which, to put in perspective, is roughly the power consumption of a small household fan (model Honeycomb HT-900). This low power requirement is truly remarkable and opens possibilities for major advances in UAV technology.

Although NASA has made many breakthroughs in the deployment of high-efficiency, high-altitude, solar-powered UAVs, the Smartbird offers a very promising solution for application in the low altitude naval environment. The 23 Watt motor of the Smartbird could be charged through a small (2 square foot) solar panel on its wings. The primary problem with solar-power solutions in aviation is weight. The Smartbird works because it is light, so to add any substantial weight to it nullifies the advances of the technology. Through modeling the efficiencies between power and weight, researchers may be able to develop a deployable Smartbird technology with payload carrying capability. An exciting application of this technology would be an ultra-efficient communication relay that could follow a strike group indefinitely and provide a dedicated over-the-horizon data link for the geographic area. This would reduce the need for each ship to have a dedicated satellite communication link and could provide for greater redundancy of systems.

Clear Air Solutions’ Robird (Clear Flight Solutions)

In some civilian airports and harbors, biomimetic UAVs are already providing a significant contribution to operations through bird control. Clear Flight Solutions manufactures the Robird for use at airports and harbor facilities because of its ability to prevent the loitering and nesting of small birds. The Department of Defense, which reports roughly 3000 bird strikes a year, is bound by strict federal legislation when it comes to the conservation of bird species. A 2002 federal court ruling actually shut down Navy training in Guam due to the violation of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Robird may be a new and exciting tool for the Navy to efficiently and sustainably control bird populations and their very real effect on Navy operations.

This new generation of energy efficient, quiet, and innocuous UAVs has tremendous potential for intelligence collection, communication relay, and even the mundane task of bird control. Future maritime UAVs will likely serve the fleet in many ways while blending into the horizon like the many birds we rarely notice. By taking a hint from nature, we can adapt our UAVs to have the same advantages that maritime birds have over land-based birds. This may mean long-range travel, survivability in high winds, and even high-speed predatory diving. It is remarkable what we can learn from nature and copy for the Navy’s use.

LT Bennett is a former Surface Warfare Officer and current Intelligence Officer. The views express herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or any other U.S. Government agency.

1.”Festo: Smartbird.” Aerodynamic Lightweight Design with Active Torsion. April 2011. Accessed September 21, 2016. Aerodynamic lightweight design with active torsion.

Featured Image: X-47B in flight after first-ever catapult launch from USS George H.W. Bush in May 2013.(U.S. Navy)

Commodore Dudley Wright Knox – Sailor, Writer, Sage

By Christopher Nelson

The U.S. Naval Institute’s popular and well-reviewed 21st Century Foundation series continues to grow. This past May, Dr. David Kohnen added to the list with his 21st Century Knox: Influence, Sea Power, and History for the Modern Era. 

Captain Dudley W. Knox as a member of the "Planning Section" of the "London Flagship" headquarters of the Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, Admiral William S. Sims. Having arrived in London for Christmas in 1917, Knox synthesized operations with intelligence by organizing future planning efforts within the headquarters. (U.S. Navy Photograph)
Captain Dudley W. Knox as a member of the “Planning Section” of the “London Flagship” headquarters of the Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, Admiral William S. Sims. Having arrived in London for Christmas in 1917, Knox synthesized operations with intelligence by organizing future planning efforts within the headquarters. (U.S. Navy Photograph)

In a review published on CIMSEC back in August, Captain Dale Rielage, USN, said that “Knox offers an example of how an officer with ideas and the willingness to challenge the status quo can have a profound influence on the U.S. Navy.” To learn more about Commodore Knox, and how he challenged naval thinking, I talked with Dr. Kohnen about his new book. 

Finally, I am excited to tell you that Dr. Kohnen has provided us with pictures of Commodore Knox and Admirals King and Sims that have never been published. They are published here for the first time.

Professor Kohnen, welcome. Thanks for taking the time to talk about your new book. So, to start, why did you want to write a book about Knox?  

Chris, thank you, I greatly appreciate this opportunity to discuss Commodore Dudley W. Knox. Indeed, I firmly believe that Knox stands among the most significant naval thinkers in American history. His ideas truly resonate, as the themes he addressed in his historical work during the first fifty years of the twentieth century informed the development of the U.S. Navy “second to none.” Through his close personal associations with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Knox became one of the key architects in designing the foundations of U.S. Navy professional military education, in understanding American naval history and traditions, and in advancing the idea of employing the U.S. Navy as an international peacemaker. Knox remains one of the most important figures in understanding American concepts of “sea power” thorough two world wars and into the Cold War era.  From my own studies of his life and historical works, I firmly believe that Knox offered strategic observations on concepts of maritime strategy, which transcend into the twenty-first century. I also firmly believe that our Navy should revisit the ideas Knox offers in his writings in order to be better informed of the historical foundations, which have shaped contemporary discussions concerning the future of American sea power and the military policy of the United States.

(Previously Unpublished) U.S. Navy Captain Ernest J. King worked closely with Knox and the London Flagship staff to coordinate Atlantic Fleet operations with intelligence. After 1917, King temporarily served as Chief of Staff to the Commander, Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Henry T. Mayo. Drawing perspective from wartime experience, King collaborated with Knox to frame a U.S. Navy strategy for professional military education after the First World War.

Knox advised the strategic decision makers who created the U.S. Navy “second to none” and the post-imperial vision of replacing historical empires with multinational alliances under the United Nations. Given his close friendship with Roosevelt and King, I have come to view Knox as a figure perhaps comparable to a Thomas Cromwell, or the fictional consigliore from the Godfather movie, as depicted by the Hollywood actor Robert Duvall. By the way, Knox was also a mentor for Duvall’s father, Commodore William H. Duvall, who served in destroyers in both the Atlantic and Pacific during the Second World War.

I first became aware of Knox as I was working on my dissertation, which focused on Ernest J. King. In the process of writing, I started reconstructing the circle of personalities surrounding King in order to understand the bureaucratic culture and primary group dynamics, which characterized the social character of the U.S. Navy during the first fifty years of the twentieth century. As I am sure you know, the story of Ernest J. King begins during the reconstruction era after the Civil War. He eventually served as Chief of Staff of the Atlantic Fleet during the First World War. Among King’s best friends and closest shipmates was a guy named Dudley Wright Knox. Of course, Knox and King shared a deep interest in history. 

Knox had ties with historical figures in American military history. His father was a general officer in the Army, and he had relatives in the service going all the way back to the American Revolutionary period. So Knox is already one of these people who is inclined to think in historical terms.  

Then I started mapping out his associations. I’m an intelligence officer in the Navy. So in the same way you do that as an intelligence officer, I began doing that with these historical figures. When you look at the association between King and Knox you start to see other associations. You begin to then see the connection between King, Knox, Nimitz, and then Halsey, Spruance, and the whole gang.  So you have this close circle of naval officers who periodically bumped into each other during their careers in the naval service.  

Now, in this circle of naval officers, Dudley Knox looms large in the discussion. Knox was a little bit older than the rest of them and he was so sharp minded that people like Ernest King would look to him for advice, perspective, and just good conversation. 

Of course, those were the days before distractions like television and the internet. These guys, then, spent their time focusing on their profession – reading the professional literature that should be read for people who want to think about strategy, naval operations, and the maritime dimension. These are books that unfortunately have become obscured in the contemporary context. You think about some of the things that Knox and his contemporaries were reading, people like John Knox Laughton and Spencer Wilkinson. These guys were aware of Corbett long before anyone else was aware of Corbett. They are an interesting group of people. That’s why I started gravitating to Commodore Knox. 

Knox, however, was not my main focus in my PhD studies — my focus was Ernest King. But now I had all these “left-overs,” the cutting room types of material after I finished the dissertation on King. And all that extra material was there, so I wrote a paper that I gave at the Oceanic Society of History Conference. On the panel was Claude Berube and B.J. Armstrong. I gave this paper about Knox, and shortly after I finished B.J. slipped me a note. B.J. wrote, “You need to write the book on Knox.” I looked at him and was like, ‘OK, whatever.’ After the conference we went to the pub and B.J. told me about the 21st Century Series and its focus. He convinced me that what I had on Knox would work quite well within the context of the 21st Century Series. It came together relatively quickly because I already knew a lot of things about Knox that simply didn’t exist in the secondary literature — and still doesn’t exist. I’m pretty happy how this little piece came together. It was a great way of bringing Knox back to the 21st century professional naval audience. 

And we are not done with Knox. Once I get some other things done, it is my full intention to go back and do something more substantial about Knox. He certainly deserves a focused biography for all the work that he did and the influence that he had, which I highlight in the collection, specifically his associations with Ernest King and Franklin Roosevelt.

Retired Captain Dudley W. Knox presents President Franklin D. Roosevelt with the final volume of an edited collection official naval records relating to U.S. Navy strategy and operations during the undeclared War with France between 1798 and 1801. After four years work, Roosevelt and Knox worked together to complete these volumes by 1938. Roosevelt insisted upon referring to the "Quasi-War" with France, much to the chagrin of Knox. However, Roosevelt specifically chose this phrase for the title of the work, as the underlying point of the work centered upon how he intended to employ the U.S. Navy in support of American neutrality strategy before the Second World War. Together, Roosevelt and Knox used history to inform American naval strategy in both peace and war.
Retired Captain Dudley W. Knox presents President Franklin D. Roosevelt with the final volume of an edited collection official naval records relating to U.S. Navy strategy and operations during the undeclared War with France between 1798 and 1801. After four years work, Roosevelt and Knox worked together to complete these volumes by 1938. Roosevelt insisted upon referring to the “Quasi-War” with France, much to the chagrin of Knox. However, Roosevelt specifically chose this phrase for the title of the work, as the underlying point of the work centered upon how he intended to employ the U.S. Navy in support of American neutrality strategy before the Second World War. Together, Roosevelt and Knox used history to inform American naval strategy in both peace and war.

I assume it is difficult as an editor to decide what to include in a book and what not to include, particularly if a subject is a prolific writer. How did you go about making those decisions?

That’s an interesting question. So, Commander B.J. Armstrong is the editor of the series, and we’re also good friends. I’m prolific in terms of, well, I like to use a lot of words to say things. And I like to use footnotes and I like to explore every avenue in my analysis. That results in large manuscripts. B.J. was draconian as an editor in executing the sixty-thousand word limit. That really constrained me in terms of what I could do in terms of Knox. We actually cut two essays that I wanted to include just to make sure the pieces fit within the context of the 21st Century Series.  

So the balance of putting together Knox’s biographical details, which are not out there in the secondary literature, there’s no real comprehensive biography of Knox available to us – so for the time being, at least, this book is a starting point for a detailed biography, which needs to be written. And if somebody else doesn’t do it I’m going to do it once I get King off my plate. When you think about editing and the choices that you have to make, what I did is I focused on the themes that the CNO is focusing on with his “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority.” I also considered pieces in light of some of the discussions that are ongoing here at the U.S. Naval War College, contemporary questions of American maritime strategy, naval leadership, ethics (but Knox always talked about the “naval ethos” opposed to ethics), and I think those differences are worthy of discussion. Knox also strongly talked about the importance of understanding the foundations of history in order to frame contemporary discussions about the future. He wrote about these themes. The way he did it was so profoundly unique that Knox remains worthy of consideration in the contemporary context. So, when I assembled these essays I followed those points when selecting the essays in the book.

My favorite essay is actually the last one. It turns out in my mind as the most interesting within the contemporary context. He’s talking about the problem of unification among the services. He’s writing at the time of the revolt of the admirals, which was just erupting. And there all of these problems between the Army and the Navy. The Air Force was newly created; the armed forces security agency; the Central Intelligence Agency; all these new things that came after World War Two. Knox is reeling against the tide as the future was being mapped out. I think Knox was a little bit reluctant to embrace these new ideas because he was still looking at things from the perspective of the past. He understood the problems that came with the bureaucratic changes that happened after the Second World War, which, from Knox’s point of view really didn’t measure up in terms of American ways of war — the American tradition of having a clearly defined civilian command over the military. Knox was worried about a progressive military industrialization of American culture. He wrote about this.  

After that last essay, Knox sort of said ‘look, we need to rethink how we are talking about problems of war.’ And he did talk about the importance of how navies are different from armies, and that armies require naval support. Armies are there to conduct operations ashore to achieve an effect ashore. But armies and navies are different, they operate in different environments, and both need airpower to conduct those operations.

So when you follow Knox’s logic he is saying this separation of an air force is a really bad idea. It creates another bureaucracy. As a result you are going to create more flag billets and you are going to see more investment, not less investment, in the military. Knox is reeling against that. Then he does this nice comparison of “Hey if I build an aircraft carrier it is going to last 40 years, you can use it for multiple functions, and use it during peacetime. Rather than if you build a fleet of bombers where its only function is going to be useful if you need to drop a bomb.” Knox did not agree with that sort of approach.   

Are there other Knox writings that didn’t make it into the 21st Century Knox but should be read as well?

Dudley Knox was prolific. B.J. and I would go around and around about which essays should go in the book. So like I said earlier, the important part was zeroing in on themes that are immediate interest to the contemporary U.S. Naval professional. That sort of dictated how we were going to put together this little collection. When I compiled the essay that were selected, I focused on the questions of strategy, doctrine, leadership, and of course, the ethos of American naval service. The one thing that I would say that is important in the process of selecting the essays, is that Knox and his associates had this perspective that the naval service has multiple functions. It is not just war. I think Knox would have a problem with contemporary words like “warfighter” because it is too specific. Knox would have reminded us that the Navy is always operational rather if we are at peace or at war. So when you look at his essay titled “Naval Power as a Preserver of Neutrality and Peace,” it is an important essay because he is basically riffing off an essay Teddy Roosevelt published in 1914 titled “Our Navy, Peace Maker.” Now, these themes are important because it is a way of thinking about military service that is different than some of the conversations that we have here in the contemporary era. For example, when you look at their careers, Knox’s generation, coming out of the naval academy at the beginning of the 20th Century, they remained in the naval service for the remainder of their lives. Knox even served in retired status as director of naval history until his death.  

(Previously Unpublished) Dudley W. Knox requested transfer to the retired list of the U.S. Navy, seeking to broaden U.S. Navy efforts to engage the American public in understanding the influence of sea power upon history. During the 1920s and 1930s, Knox helped organize historical research and preservation efforts within the Navy Department. In this role, he also remained heavily involved with the Office of Naval Intelligence. Fusing historical research with efforts to meet contemporary challenges, Knox served as a trusted personal adviser to President Franklin. D. Roosevelt. The painting behind him is that of a destroyer escorting a convoy during the First World War. During the war, Knox was heavily involved in convoy operations.
(Previously Unpublished) Dudley W. Knox requested transfer to the retired list of the U.S. Navy, seeking to broaden U.S. Navy efforts to engage the American public in understanding the influence of sea power upon history. During the 1920s and 1930s, Knox helped organize historical research and preservation efforts within the Navy Department. In this role, he also remained heavily involved with the Office of Naval Intelligence. Fusing historical research with efforts to meet contemporary challenges, Knox served as a trusted personal adviser to President Franklin. D. Roosevelt. The painting behind him is that of a destroyer escorting a convoy during the First World War. During the war, Knox was heavily involved in convoy operations.

When you put together the chronology of some of these guys’ naval careers, and the numbers they spent fighting wars, it only adds up to about eight years. So what are they doing during this other time? So here you have people serving, this idea of service, the ethos of naval service, over a sixty odd year period, and their orientation is not to go find a war but to find ways to avoid a war through sea power. And of course this ties into the theories of Mahan and Luce at the end of the 19th century. Of course, their perspectives reflected an informed understanding of John Knox Laughton’s work, Spencer Wilkinson, Alfred Mahan, and others. 

Dudley Knox had some well-known mentors. Who were they and how did they influence him?  Knox, if I understood correctly, was concerned that there will be some challenges if you have a U.S. Air Force trying to support a naval surface force. He had some concerns about an independent air force. This was in a time when discussions of creating a U.S. Air Force sounded quite contentious. Was he concerned that air force aviators wouldn’t understand naval operations and vice versa?

The problem here centers on the question of who controls what. Knox observed post-World War I events, for example, the Washington Naval Treaty. Those events inspired Knox to write his first substantial book called “The Eclipse of American Sea Power.” He’s reeling against the fact that the average American policy maker is not educated enough to understand what they were doing when they were cutting the Fleet. After that fight in 1923, Billy Mitchell arrives and is fixated in creating an American equivalent to the British Royal Air Force, and Knox is reeling against this during his whole career because Knox is saying that the army needs airpower as much as the Navy needs airpower. But airpower for the sake of airpower is nothing. We don’t need a separate air force, he says. That’s Knox’s position for the remainder of his career.

Knox, I was interested to read, was quite the historian. In fact, one of your selections is his piece titled “Forgetting the Lessons of History.” And in my copy of your book, I underlined a section where he says he was quite frustrated with the lack of accessibility to naval archives — in particular, private collectors upset him. Why?

Knox recognized that private collectors are a major source of material that really doesn’t belong to them. They may have paid for it and they might have acquired these items for investment purposes, but from Knox’s point of view these items belonged to the nation. He became very frustrated with some of them because they liked to hang the painting on the wall or have the original commission of John Paul Jones just sitting there on the fire mantle, and Knox said that something like that does not belong on your mantle piece. It belongs to the Navy and to the nation. Through the good offices of FDR a lot of these pieces were acquired by the Navy at Navy expense for the purpose of preservation. And I must say, in the contemporary context, we have a lot of work to do in that front.

On Knox’s writings on naval leadership, he seems, at least to me, to have a reasonable position on naval ceremonies and etiquette. Why did he think that over-emphasizing naval etiquette was more dangerous than under-emphasizing it?  

I think over-emphasizing on anything can be dangerous. Knox is trying to say we should be proud of our naval service and celebrate our traditions. We have to live up to the image that we want to paint for ourselves as naval professionals — that’s what he is trying to say. Etiquette for Knox does not equate to naval proficiency. For instance, you could still wear white gloves and wear a sharp naval uniform but be a terrible naval officer. That’s what he is saying. You look at some of the things we emphasize in the contemporary context: can you do enough push-ups, can you run a mile and half in the right amount of time? Knox would have said ‘that’s ridiculous – who cares?’ Knox would have said if the guy can do the job and do it well, and if they are willing to serve, and as long as they are medically fit to be under-way, I don’t care if he has a beer-belly. If he is a good sailor then he is a good sailor – and he is a shipmate. So what are we doing throwing people out that are good sailors. That’s what Knox would have said. I’m channeling his ghost as I speak. There are these superfluous bureaucratic things that Knox and his generation would be reeling against – general training, that sort of stuff. You can follow the manual all day, but you are still not going to get it, in terms of being a naval professional.

When he is talking leadership, what he is saying is ‘look, if you are getting into the weeds, the details of some poor enlisted man’s job, you are not being a leader, you are trying to be an enlisted man. Let the enlisted people do the jobs that they’ve been assigned and develop a sense of teamwork.’ He would have said you have to develop that sense of cohesion and common vision.

As a historian yourself, I want to talk a bit about your writing and research process. Where did you end up going to do most of your research on Knox? 

As an analyst, I looked at his associations, and from there I looked at repositories where papers might be that make references that refer to Knox. The U.S. Naval Academy, The Nimitz Library has some great material, the Library of Congress has a gold mine of material. There’ papers in the National Archives from his official work that are hard to find, but they’re there. And of course, at the U.S. Naval War College, we have a substantial collection of interesting papers that relate to Knox and his associates. Specifically, the post-war efforts to develop professional military education standards under the Knox-King-Pye board. It was Dudley Knox and his associate Tracey Barrett Kitridge who helped Sims expand the library collection at the U.S. Naval War College from roughly 1,000 books to over 45,000 books within about a three year period – breaking all the rules and regulations required to get the job done.

(Previously Unpublished) Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, Admiral William S. Sims, salutes with the Commander, Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Henry T. Mayo, with their chiefs of staffs on board the flagship of the Atlantic Fleet, USS Pennsylvania (BB-38). After the armistice in November of 1918, Sims and Mayo assumed four star rank. Their close collaboration during the First World War provided the template for headquarters ashore to support future U.S. Navy operations at sea. Together, the staffs serving under Sims and Mayo pioneered contemporary concepts of joint and combined naval command.
(Previously Unpublished) Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, Admiral William S. Sims, salutes with the Commander, Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Henry T. Mayo, with their chiefs of staffs on board the flagship of the Atlantic Fleet, USS Pennsylvania (BB-38). After the armistice in November of 1918, Sims and Mayo assumed four star rank. Their close collaboration during the First World War provided the template for headquarters ashore to support future U.S. Navy operations at sea. Together, the staffs serving under Sims and Mayo pioneered contemporary concepts of joint and combined naval command.

The Knox-King-Pye board was another piece that I was unable to fit in this collection. I make some references to it other areas. One of the big things the board highlighted, and the reason it caused so much controversy, is that the board concluded that your average U.S. Navy flag officer was only educated to the lowest commissioned grade. If you think about that, in 1919 they are making the assertion that the average American naval professional went to the naval academy, graduated, became ensigns, and that’s the last time they had any education besides the life at sea. What Knox, King, and Pye concluded was one of the problems in the navy was the poor education of high ranking admirals. One of the people they had in mind when they wrote this was Hugh Rodman, who commanded a battleship division in the First World War. Rodman celebrated the fact that he didn’t read Clausewitz and Jomini – he thought he was just a darn good sailor. King and Knox thought he was a dullard. So in essence what Knox, King, and Pye are trying to do is say, ‘hey, flag officer, you might have the rank, but we are smarter than you.’

Also, as a writer and historian, how did you decide to organize this book? How do you organize your notes and thoughts when you are writing?   

I studied with Carl Boyd and the late Craig Cameron at Old Dominion University a long time ago – and both of them had different writing methods. First and foremost as a methodological point, I was conditioned by people like Carl and Craig to study the works of great historians like Michael Howard and Peter Paret. I have been so fortunate in my past studies, as Carl personally made it possible for me to interact with Peter Paret, John Keegan, and Admiral Bobby Inman. Because of Carl, I also had the opportunity to work with and develop close friendships with historians like the late Jürgen Rohwer and Edward L. “Ned” Beach.

Since my studies at Old Dominion all those years ago, I have subsequently had the unique privilege of studying under the immediate supervision of John Hattendorf at the Naval War College and Andrew Lambert at the University of London, King’s College. Hattendorf and Lambert loom very large as inspirations for the type of historian I would like to be. Michael Howard also inspires me to focus on the human dimension, as I consider the strange phenomenon of war. If anything, my studies of past wars have convinced me that contemporary strategic thinkers ought to take the approach that, unlike armies or air forces, Knox argued that navies provided unique means, “not to make war but to preserve peace, not to be predatory, but to shield the free development of commerce, not to unsettle the world, but to stabilize it through the promotion of law and order.”

From my education as a historian, I strive to employ the method that is more closely associated with Leopold von Ranke. Through primary archival research and documentary history, I try to replicate the conditions of the time in order to understand why people acted in the way that they did at the time. I strive not to superimpose 21st century concepts upon personalities like Knox or King. I’m trying to understand why they did things in 1919 within the context of 1919. I do take sort of a broadly humanistic approach in examining historical questions.

Now, it does cause some problems for me, because I was not actually there in 1919 and I will never actually get to meet people like Knox or King. By reading their papers and by placing them into their proper historical context, however, I must say that one can get a visceral sense of what made them tick (so to speak). Since they were able to navigate the unforeseeable cybernetic challenges of technology and the collapse of empires during the unprecedented upheaval of two world wars, I must say that Knox and King would certainly have something to say about the contemporary challenges we face in the twenty-first century.

When I’m talking to contemporary strategic thinkers at the Naval War College, I also have to help them understand why the past is still important within the contemporary context. Obviously, I want people to read my writing. So, one of the challenges is to make it such that these people that are no longer with us – people like Knox and King – that they resonate with contemporary readers. I look for things that provide connections to the contemporary reader, which of course helps us discussions about the future. 

I begin with that methodology. I pick people to focus on and then I look for their papers. Of course, I try to read everything I can possibly get my hands on about these people. There’s not much on Knox, unfortunately. Soon you realize that you are dealing with these complicated personalities — and you are dealing with myths in the historiography, all the while trying to figure out what made these people tick. The more you know the more complicated it gets. You have to be disciplined to focus on the themes that are the most important to understanding the person you are dealing with, but also how that person continues to be important to the contemporary reader.

Once I have all my information together I’ll rough out an outline of the themes that I want to hit on. Those then become your chapter headings, and then each chapter has its own focus. Next, you do your best to try to tie all the chapters together into a comprehensive narrative with a strong opening argument in the beginning and a strong conclusion in the end, telling the reader what it means.

My last questions have to do with Knox’s legacy. What do you think, if anything, he anticipated as future challenges for the U.S. Navy? And second, what is the single most important thing you want readers to takeaway from Knox’s work?

Knox is part of that generation of naval officers who followed the vision of the “navy second to none.” He did it through two world wars and he did it during peacetime in efforts to avoid wars in the first place. Arguably, the navy you have today is the navy that Knox and his associates built. If we don’t recognize that then we run the risk of losing what they built. I would argue that Knox is with us everyday when a U.S. Navy warship gets underway. If anything, I would hope that contemporary U.S. Naval professionals just take some time to think about the rich history and traditions of our service. In some respects I am channeling the ghosts of Knox and King in stating that I firmly believe that we must recognize our responsibility of being the curators and caretakers of our U.S. Navy for the future interests of American seapower and in framing an informed approach to the future military policy of the United States. As an aside, I was pleased the other day that they got rid of the blue navy working uniforms. It was a uniform that Knox would have taken time to write about in a negative way. It would be great to see us get back into proper naval uniforms.

 Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz congratulating Commodore Dudley W. Knox with a Legion of Merit in 1946. During the Second World War, Knox returned to active status with assignment to the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief, U.S. Navy (CominCh). In this capacity, Knox served at large as a strategic adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King. Through their good offices, Knox established the Office of Naval History as a coequal branch of the Office of Naval Intelligence on the Operations Navy (OpNav) staff. For this service, King nominated Knox for promotion to commodore in 1945. The following year, the postwar Chief of Naval Operations, Nimitz, recognized Knox with the Legion of Merit Medal to mark his return to retired status. Nevertheless, Knox continued working within the Office of Naval History until his death in 1960.

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz congratulating Commodore Dudley W. Knox with a Legion of Merit in 1946. During the Second World War, Knox returned to active status with assignment to the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief, U.S. Navy (CominCh). In this capacity, Knox served at large as a strategic adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King. Through their good offices, Knox established the Office of Naval History as a coequal branch of the Office of Naval Intelligence on the Operations Navy (OpNav) staff. For this service, King nominated Knox for promotion to commodore in 1945. The following year, the postwar Chief of Naval Operations, Nimitz, recognized Knox with the Legion of Merit Medal to mark his return to retired status. Nevertheless, Knox continued working within the Office of Naval History until his death in 1960. 

I am chagrined that some bureaucrat, probably sitting in a cubicle in the Pentagon, decided to abandon centuries of naval tradition by abandoning our enlisted rating system in favor of the air force and army models of focusing on rank. The rating system was really emphasized by Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce who thought that military rank was ancillary to the mastery of a more focused professional trade, such as the quartermaster masters of navigation, the boatswain masters of seamanship, and the medical master corpsmen. If it is the last thing I do, our navy will someday return to its historical roots and develop a better understanding of why our U.S. Navy became what it now is within the contemporary context.  

Nobody knows what the future holds, but historical understanding provides means to anticipate and adapt to the unforeseeable future. Historians frequently face challenges in dealing with people who are more interested in bureaucratic routines, or mathematically framed engineering processes, or empirically clear solutions. Historians are unable to do this, because they do not tend to offer clear answers in black and white terms. All they can really do is offer contemporary strategic decision makers an informed perspective or a recommendation for a given course of action. Historians can only stand upon the foundations provided by historical understanding, but are not very good at articulating their ideas within the contemporary context as the engineers, lawyers, politicians, and policy-types tend to dominate the contemporary discussions of future strategy.  

Basically, I think it is important for us as naval professionals to consistently seek an informed understanding of the past in order to know in clear terms the influence of history upon seapower and in shaping the future military policy of the United States.

Dr. Kohnen, thanks so much for taking the time to chat. All the best to you.

Thank You, Chris. I enjoyed it.

David Kohnen earned a PhD with the Laughton Professor of Naval History at the University of London (Kings College London). As a maritime historian, he concentrates on naval strategy, organizations, and organizational group dynamics. Focusing on these general themes, he edited the works of Commodore Dudley W. Knox to examine historical foundations in contemporary maritime affairs in, 21st Century Knox: Influence, Sea Power, and History for the Modern Era (Naval Institute Press, 2016). In his previous book, Kohnen focused on the transatlantic alliance between the British Empire and United States in, Commanders Winn and Knowles: Winning the U-Boat War with Intelligence (Enigma Press, 1999).

Outside of his scholarly work, Kohnen’s naval service in the active and reserve ranks include two deployments afloat in Middle Eastern waters, two ashore in Iraq, and one supporting landlocked operations in Afghanistan. Balancing work as a Naval War College civil service instructor, Kohnen also serves in the U.S. Naval Reserve with the Executive Programs faculty at  the National Intelligence University in Washington, D.C. The comments and opinions in this interview are his own and do not represent the opinions of the U.S Navy or the U.S. Department of Defense.

Christopher Nelson is a U.S. Naval Intelligence Officer currently stationed in the Pacific. The questions and comments above are his personal opinions and do not reflect the opinions of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Department of Defense.

Closing Remarks on Changing Naval Force Structure

Alternative Naval Force Structure Topic Week

By CAPT Wayne P. Hughes Jr., USN (Ret.)

The biggest deficiencies in reformulating the U. S. Navy’s force structure are (1) a failure to take the shrinking defense budget into account which (2) allows every critic or proponent to be like the blind men who formulated their description of an elephant by touching only his trunk, tail, leg, or tusk. To get an appreciation of the size of the problem you have to describe the whole beast, and what is even harder, to get him to change direction by hitting him over the head repeatedly.

A good thesis to make the point is by LT Juan L. Carrasco, published in 2009. It explores the number of fleet billets in (1) the then current 285 ship fleet (2) the proposed, now defunct, 313 ship Navy, and (3) a new fleet of over 650 vessels designed by nine members of the NPS faculty that included more than 260 smaller coastal warships. Carrasco showed, remarkably enough, the NPS-designed fleet required the fewest afloat billets. Looking at the details reveal why. One major reason was that the then-current Navy’s eleven CVNs took 46% of all fleet billets in 285 ship navy, so when the NPS-designed fleet cut the number of CVNs to six and added more than a dozen small sea-based air platforms, then they were more distributable 100,000 ton carriers. The smaller ones, more like a CVL in size, can operate in littoral waters where a CVN wing is more than is needed for long term littoral operations. Thus, there were enough billets to more widely distribute across the NPS fleet.

A Manpower Comparison of Three U. S. Navies: The Current Fleet, a Projected 313 Ship Fleet, and a More Distributed Bimodal Alternative by Juan L. Carrasco.

Those who haven’t thought about all the elements of a 600-ship navy will have a lot of questions about logistics, flying off smaller carriers, new tactics to accompany the new technologies, procedures to deal with warships damaged from missile attacks, and so forth. The Navy must confront its budget crunch while needing to buy more expensive missiles in greater numbers, restoring the SSBN fleet, sustaining the APN dollars to buy ever-more expensive aircraft, supporting Marine expeditionary operations, structuring an offensively capable surface ship fleet, building up—or merely sustaining—our increasingly valuable submarine forces, and maintaining enough CLF ships to take some losses and continue to maintain the fleet forward. This will take a lot more original thinking about the role of unmanned and robotic vehicles of many kinds, more teaming with partner nations, forward bases that support our friends in East Asia and Europe, applications of offensive cyber warfare, achieving more stealthy C2 ways to attack effectively first, all to achieve the end of building a more distributable, combat ready 21st Century U. S. Navy.

Captain Hughes is a designated professor in the Department of Operations Research at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds a master of science degree in operations research from the Naval Postgraduate School. On active duty he commanded a minesweeper and a destroyer, directed a large training command, served as deputy director of Systems Analysis (OP-96), and was aide to Under Secretary of the Navy R. James Woolsey. At the Naval Postgraduate School for twenty-six years, he has served in the Chair of Applied Systems Analysis, as the first incumbent of the Chair of Tactical Analysis, and as dean of the Graduate School of Operational and Information Sciences. Captain Hughes is author of Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat (2000), Fleet Tactics: Theory and Practice (1986), and Military Modeling (1984), and he is a coauthor of A Concise Theory of Combat (1997). He served as a member of the Naval War College Press Advisory Board for over twenty-five years, until 2012.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (Sept. 23, 2016) The forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) steams in formation with, from left to right, the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20), the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42), USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65), the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) during a photo exercise during Valiant Shield 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin V. Cunningham/Released)