Category Archives: Fiction

Maritime and naval fiction.

Haze Gray Zone

By Chris O’Connor

Ma’am, your presence is requested in Combat. OS2 Van-Manama’s message appeared in the right lens of LCDR Sara Fernandez’s glasses. A top-down overlay of an unknown surface contact appeared in her left lens.

On my way, OS2. She subvocalized back. She still wasn’t used to the formality in the Navy. Or the food. The only thing she ate for breakfast in this hot weather was buttered toast. She got up from her seat in the tiny mess space, dropped her plate in the washer, and went down the ladder.

“What do you have for me?” She asked OS2 V-M as she entered the Combat Information Center. She could talk plainly here. No need to message through LiFi to communicate, as she did in the rest of the ship. Combat was not an impressive space; two terminals, an observation chair, and display wall. At least it was air conditioned. OS2 was seated at the right terminal.

“It’s that Contact of Interest we’ve been waiting for; 350 at 23 miles. Going 13 knots on a course of 170. It’ll pass right by the seafarm.”

She squeezed past OS2 to sit at the left terminal and pulled up the COI’s track info. It was classified on AIS as a fishing fleet factory ship. The Chinese had this type harvesting seafood in every ocean now that most fisheries in their EEZ had collapsed.

V-M continued. “Its signature is certainly correct, the right number of diesels at the right harmonics, ELINT shows commercial SATCOMs and surface search. And the satellite images we pulled down show a wake profile that fits for a ship of the type. It has one commercial VTOL security drone up. I’m sure it’s aware of our tender.”

“Copy. I’ll go let the Captain know.” She said, leaving Combat.

The Master, Captain Aquino, was on the port bridge wing, observing crane ops. The heat and humidity was mitigated by a slight breeze. The Polillo 2 was working on one of the seafarm perimeter buoys.

“Morning, Captain.”

“Morning.” He mumbled back, eyes remaining on the crane. “I see the large contact on the Furuno. Is that why you’re here?”

“You guessed it. After this buoy, could you secure from crane ops for a while? We should be prepared to maneuver.” Fernandez said.

“I know the drill.” Aquino said, annoyance creeping into his voice. “I’ll go to thrusters soon and be ready to seem really interested in working deep in the buoy field.” He said, gesturing out to the farm, large yellow solar floats extending south as far as the eye could see. “I’ll act casual, ‘cuz I don’t want to be killed.”

“Yes, Sir.” She said, heading for the ladder.

“Don’t call me Sir!” He shouted after her. “I was a Senior Chief in the Navy. And I STILL work for a living!”


A disembodied voice greeted Sara. “Thanks for coming today. The purpose of this interview is to collect information for our historical archives.” All that she could see was the emblem for Naval History and Heritage Command floating six feet in front of her in an empty, white-paneled cube. It was the default setting for a VRcast waiting room.

“Coming today? I’m in my office at home,” she pointed out.

“We will set the default interview template.” The view faded and was replaced by a mid-twentieth century history professor’s study, complete with walls of bookshelves and leather chairs. Fernandez could almost smell books, old wood, and leather. But without a multisensory neural link, it was all in her imagination.

Across from her was a desk covered in papers. Seated behind it was a middle-aged man, hair thinning on top of his head and in a blazer with leather patches at the elbows. A notepad was ready in front of him, fountain pen in hand.

“Does this put you at ease? We can set this to any template you prefer.” The interviewer AI asked, now enrobed in a professor avatar.

“This works for me. It is kinda funny, though. I was never in an office like this because I am not 100 years old.”

“Alright, then. Let us get started. The purpose of this interview is to collect information from veterans of the war so that we can make VR historical simulations. It is intended as a free-flowing discussion. I detect that you have a brain interface implant. Can we access it for biofeedback during our talk?”

“No, it’s just an augment for my right eye.” Sara felt an itching sensation where flesh and bone met metal and plastic in her ocular cavity. Maybe it was time for a firmware update.

“Joined the Navy at 36, after a leaving a successful career in autonomous systems. You were being paid more than two times a Lieutenant Commander in your civilian job. There were many people in your comfortable position that did not join up when the nation needed them. Why did you?”


“The seafarm surveillance drone that US1 reconfigured is making an ID pass.” OS2 said looking at the drone feed. “Something’s not right.”

LCDR Fernandez was sitting in the chair next to him and monitoring the sensor feeds, while watching the AI run the object detector module. They had to use laser to communicate with the drone to keep their comms signature down. Signal strength was not very good in the humid and salty conditions.

The video feed from the drone showed the COI. It was painted blue and white, with perfectly placed rust streaks, and the superstructure was not quite right to Sara. The detector results came back as possibilities: 95% factory fishing ship, 72% car ferry, 5% generic amphibious warfare vessel. On the visual feed, panels on the side of the COI were changing colors, sometimes flashing patterns.

“It looks like it is covered in active adversarial network patches. I’ve never seen so many,” V-M said. “Our module is only seeing a fishing vessel and somehow ignoring the other qualities of the ship. It is being played like a fiddle.”

“Do you think they know the standard detector module inside and out and trained their AN systems to counter it?” Sara said sarcastically. “OCEANUS,” she said to the Combat AI. “Run it again with that algorithm trained with US1’s input set. A new module that the Chinese did not plan to encounter might see something else.”

After a few seconds, the module came up with a new result. 94% modified Type 071 (NATO reporting name: Yuzhao) LPD.

It was a Yuzhao altered to have the external appearance of a fishing vessel. It could have been damaged in the opening of the war and rebuilt in the yards to look that way. Maybe it was a mod of one of the export variants that never made it to Thailand.

Either way, it was a major violation of the Seven Powers agreement. Warships of that size should not be in the South China Sea.


“I was a domestic delivery drone network supervisor. Studied robotics at Carnegie Mellon and got hired right after graduation by a small logistics UAV startup in San Diego. After working there for a few years, the company was bought out by one of the tech companies, which was inevitable. Absorbed into the workforce of a FANG, I was responsible for all UGV and UAV delivery operations in Pennsylvania when the war started. Looking back, the strangest part of the whole thing was we still haven’t figured out who started what we now call the ‘Seven Powers War.’”

“What do you mean?” The interviewer said, now going through the motion of jotting down notes.

“We always blamed China for starting the war, and China blames us. But neither of us were ready at the kickoff. The CCP was hit by that massive ransomware attack at the same time as Congress and the White House. And it was a well-executed hit job. Almost everyone’s official and personal email accounts and phones were taken offline, with no way to pay it off, like the NotPetya attack back in the day.” 

“NotPetya?” The AI stopped writing.

“You don’t know what that is? You do real-time research while we are talking. I’m sure you know precisely what happened.”

“Of course, I will develop VRcast content with embedded branches to references. But for the sake of archiving the interviews for public consumption, I would like to do this as a conversation.” 

“I am impressed how well you can talk to me. Can’t even tell that you are a bot.” Fernandez said.

“Ever since GPT5, the Turing test is invalid. If it would make you feel better, I can take on his persona for this interview.”

“Would you look like a young Cumberbatch or the real guy?”

“I can look like anyone you want if it makes this interview productive, but please do not call me a ‘bot.’ I find that outdated slang derogatory,” the AI said coldly.

“Right. Sorry.” She conceded. “I’ll get back on track. That attack’s intent was to cripple the leadership in both countries. Russia and the other powers either reacted quick enough to prevent it or they were not targeted. Of course, deepfakes of everyone taking credit were out there. I even saw one of Uruguay’s Prime Minister claiming responsibility to bring the ‘Great Powers to their knees.’”

“How did this lead to you signing on the dotted line?” the AI said, with a pipe now placed in the corner of his mouth, face simulating deep interest in the conversation.

Sara leaned back in her chair. “It’s a funny phrase, by the way. I completed my contract with a biometric finger scan.”

“I have to keep in character with my persona.” The AI commented, waving his pipe at his paper-covered desk. “I cannot be anachronistic.”

“Well, it was China’s first shots that made it personal for me,” Sara said. “They had been getting increasingly paranoid and thought we were intentionally crippling their leadership with the cyberattack. Maybe they thought we were overacting to that election-year PLAN carrier strike group FONOPS in the Gulf of Mexico. A lot of Americans were pissed off when the Chinese did that.

“Predicting a U.S. play in the Western Pacific, the Chinese leadership reacted with a what I see as a ‘flexible response option’— or at least that’s how my joint training would describe it. Instead of attacking our bases and combatants directly, they went for our fleet replenishment ships.

“Our oilers were easy to find and track with pretty basic AI, thanks to the hundreds of commercial imagery CubeSats in orbit. All the oilers underway in the Western Pacific had two antiship ballistic missiles fired at them. Not even the new missiles, but the older models, since our replenishment ships were easy pickings with no countermeasures or defenses. The PLA saved the new ‘DFs’ for the potential higher-end targets.

“Out of ASBM reach was USNS Genesee, two days west of Pearl. First in a new class of fast replenishment oilers, ‘Genny’ was the fastest and largest ship since the old AOEs were in service, with expanded hangar space for the new VTOL ‘Hopper’ logistics drones.

“Like its counterparts, it was sailing solo with no escorts. While its counterparts were being wiped out by ballistic missiles, the ‘Genny’ lost power. From what the survivors told us, immediately after a logistics database update, a worm was triggered in its power systems that shut everything down, to include backup batteries and generators. There was no recovering with the personnel onboard. None of their servers worked, so it was impossible to use the smart ship system to even find where the issues were.

“My Uncle Juan was one of the unfortunate engineers furtively trying to get the controllers on the diesels working when the main spaces and Hold 3 were both hit with sprint vehicles. Only nine from the crew of eighty-seven were plucked from the water hours later, after the UUV that launched the YJ-18s was found and neutralized.

“There were now no replenishment ships west of Pearl Harbor. They could have been crippled with worm attacks alone, but China put them on the bottom of the ocean. It meant that our warships throughout the Pacific had limited legs and were constrained to ports that were now at threatened by more long-range weapons.”

“So you joined because your uncle was killed?” The professor asked.

“It was a major part of it. We were not a military family. I had a great uncle that was an officer in the Navy during what he called the ‘Tanker Wars’ and my mom’s cousin served in the Space Force, but I really liked Uncle Juan and wanted to do something in his honor. The nature of how the war changed also made me a good officer candidate.”


“Pass this info to the Hughes through the seafarm’s network.”

“Aye aye, Ma’am.” OS2 said. “US1 is putting up another drone to act as a laser comms relay for the exploit ops.”

“Ready for that?” Fernandez said to CTR2 Cruz. She was sitting in the left console seat now. Fernandez had moved back to the observation chair.

“Yes Ma’am. We have a common system target set fed into our JANUS AI. We’ll be looking for networks common to Yuzhaos, fishing vessels, or anything commercial commonly installed at the shipyard of origin.”

Sara reached behind her and grabbled the IC phone off the hook. “Captain, OIC. We’re about to annoy the contact,” she said.

“Copy,” Aquino gruffly said. “I’m turning off all my external comms and navigation systems except for the Furuno. It’s the only thing we have that is airgapped. Moving into the field now.”

The diesel vibrations through the hull stopped, and Fernandez felt the ship move on thrusters into the field.

“Sweep is negative for EM leakage. COI is doing a good job with signal discipline, save the nav radar.” OS2 reported.

“Let the Hughes know that we are going for network intrusion. We’ll probably get a response.”

“Will do Ma’am,” V-M replied.

“Let’s see if they left any of their antennas to receive only.” CTR2 said.

Probing low power signal antenna. JANUS began.

Detected: Autonomous trawling net system.

“It looks like they were serious enough about their cover that they put a commercial fishing system onboard, and someone didn’t think to disable the antenna.” Cruz observed.

Trawling systems connected to ship’s common servers.

Uploading worm.

Intrusion Detection AI on PLAN network countering.

Lost comms. JANUS was in the LPD’s network for mere seconds.

“Drone down.” OS2 said. “It looks like COI hit it with a laser.”

“Was the worm fully uploaded?” Fernandez asked.

Cruz was looking at multiple feeds at once, using hand gestures to make selections. “Looks like it, Ma’am,” she said. “It depends on which one JANUS decided to use.”

“They detected the intrusion, so it doesn’t have a lot of time to work,” Sara said. “What worm did JANUS deploy?”

Unmask Rev 11, JANUS responded, before Cruz could.

CTR2 continued. “The results from ‘Unmask’ will depend on how the shipboard networks are configu—crap!”

“Multiple military comms and radars radiating on COI. Classify contact as hostile!” OS2 shouted. “They just lit up like a Christmas tree.”

The true nature of the contact was now broadcast for the world to see. 27 miles away, on the west edge of the buoy field, the Hughes and its flotilla of Lake-class corvettes leapt to all ahead full, as their smaller Fiberclad USV escorts struggled to keep up.


“The Navy needed people of your expertise with the new drone systems after the ceasefire,” the AI stated, leaning back in its chair, as if it was a human realizing this for the first time.

“Exactly. I’m sure you are collecting interviews from many vets, but as you know, the first two weeks of shooting was a free-for-all. It escalated so quickly that I am amazed to this day we didn’t go nuclear. I think it’s because we didn’t attack targets on the Chinese mainland, even though they laid waste to our Guam bases. China could have put some cruise missiles into Pearl or San Diego but chose not to. And both sides only used hypersonic weapons against each other’s warships. But that still meant that we lost a lot of ships. This wasn’t a one-sided exchange. With the help of the Air Force, we took out most of the larger platforms in the PLAN South- and East- Seas Fleets.

“We learned quickly that nothing on the surface of the ocean could hide anymore. On day one of the shooting, for example, they fired about thirty older ASBMs at the strike group that was east of the Philippines, purposely encircling it with impact points, demonstrating to us that they knew where it was.”

“Undeterred, our response to the sinking of the oilers was that same CSG launching a strike on Chinese artificial islands in the SCS. Before those strike aircraft recovered to the CVN, the CSG was hammered with ASBMs and long-range cruise missiles, and only the McCain got away without major damage. She escorted the survivors of the CSG into Tacloban; one barely afloat DDG and the CVN, which was missing sections of her island and had massive holes in her flight deck. The other strike group in WESTPAC had to fight its way back to Pearl through a PLAN UUV wolfpack, with a pod of our own ORCAs and LIVYATANs running interference.”

The AI was tearing through his notepad now; Sara wondered what exactly he was writing. The professor noted, “After this continued for two weeks, both sides ran out of chess pieces in the Pacific. And the Seven Powers ceasefire agreement limited the size of assets we could send over there.”

“The USN had to reconstitute fast,” she said. “It went on a crash course in platform procurement, and acquired small vessels built in yacht and fishing boat yards throughout the U.S. Most of these were modified to become unmanned surface vehicles. The USVs ranged from high-end combat ones, like the stealthy Fiberclads, to low-end logistics, surveillance, and lily pads for the short-range aerial systems. They were designed to need smaller logistical footprints so they could operate without a replenishment fleet of larger ships.”

“And new sailors were needed to crew this Navy,” the AI pointed out.

“Yep. It took about a year to get out to the fleet with my accelerated commission. Familiarization didn’t take too long. After all, I was experienced with a lot of the commercial platforms the Navy had bought. I joined up with the command in San Diego. Had sims and tactics training and was then assigned to a SCS-centric detachment that was to go underway on clandestine collection platforms. I thought the Navy was going to put me in charge of a sexy drone warfare unit. I ended up doing something quite different.”


Seneca just got hit.” V-M said calmly. “Most likely a UUV.”

“At least hiding in the farm will protect us from that.” Fernandez said, matter-of-factly. It would be hard to weave a weapon through the underwater maze of interconnected buoys to hit Polillo 2.

Now that the game was up, the Yuzhao was in survival mode. The radiating triggered by ‘Unmask’ abruptly ceased, and she increased speed and turned to the north, trying to bug out.

“Swarm deployment on hostile.” OS2 reported. Concealed launchers on the Chinese ship began to disgorge a heterogenous cloud of drones into the air around it.

The U.S. flotilla was not going to let that LPD live to sneak around another day. The surviving corvettes each launched a pair of Super-LRASMs at the contact while kicking out their own much smaller swarms, which included Cormorant UAVs to counter the hostiles in the water below.

None of the LRASMs reached their target. They met a brick wall of drones, directed energy, and good old fashioned 30mm CIWS rounds. But the Hughes drove on with the flotilla, firing the rest of their missiles and going ‘Empty Quiver.’ The flotilla put every available drone into the fight, emptying their launchers. The LPD was more than a match. The PLAN equipped it with a superior combat systems AI and scores of drone tubes.

OS2 unleashed creative stream of multilingual invectives. Fernandez was impressed how her comms AI tried to keep up with the translation, labelling it as Mix of Vietnamese and Kiro. One insult, for example, had something to do with a whale and a bowl of petunias.

“I don’t know what you are saying, but it doesn’t seem professional,” she said.

“Sorry Ma’am. The contact just went Death Blossom on us,” V-M muttered.

The classic movie reference would have been funny in any other context, but the video feed of the LPD putting up an ever-thickening cloud of UAVs like an angry beehive was no laughing matter. To make matters worse, drone variants were launched that were new to OCEANUS’ threat database.

CTR2 barely croaked, “Network sweep. They suspect us. JANUS is countering multiple intrusion attempts from the Yuzhao through the seafarm net.”

Then Sara saw on the OCEANUS feed a tendril of the enemy swarm break off and head toward Polillo 2.


“We were assigned to a 32-meter buoy tender, based out of a small fishing port in the western Philippines.” Fernandez continued. “There were many commercial vessels like it, contracted out to maintain farms of aquaculture such as kelp and mussels. We bounced around geographic locations in the SCS based on collection requirements. The Det consisted of seven ununiformed sailors of a mix of rates: Operations Specialists, Unmanned Systems Techs, Cryptologic Techs, Additive Artisans. I was the Officer in Charge, but the tender’s Master was a Merchant Mariner.

“These tenders were set up for autonomous systems control and maintenance. Seafarms are run on a daily basis by a workforce of aerial, surface, and subsurface drones that check the buoys’ status, scan the crops, and test the water column for pollutants and security intrusions. It wasn’t unusual for a tender such as ours to be launching and recovering drones and related systems, which made it the perfect cover. Limited to slight modifications for our mission, we had bolted on a few extra comms antennas, mostly laser and other LPI comms, and we sure as hell couldn’t launch any Cormorants or Sea Eagles.

“The forces agreement meant that the only USN and PLAN ships allowed in the SCS were small combatants, while other nations patrolled with larger vessels as part of the enforcement mission. A four-ship flotilla of Lake-class missile corvettes was positioned near us, trying its best to keep a low signature, but sticking out like a sore thumb among commercial traffic. We kept them up to date on our ops, and they were ready in case things got hairy. The USS Wayne P. Hughes was the manned command ship; the remaining three were unmanned versions of the same class.”

The AI shifted is pipe from one side of his mouth to the other. “You were operating in an area that could combust at any time, and you were on an unarmed vessel.”

“And it got messy quickly.”

“One of the purposes of this project is to capture vignettes of important phase changes of the war. And we think your part was a big one, because it was when a new facet of Chinese operations was discovered.” The professor said, tapping his pipe in an ashtray. “I hear it was a close call for you, and I would like to record accurately what happened at that seafarm.”

“Are you interviewing the Skipper of the Hughes?” Fernandez asked.

“CDR Zhu? Of course. One of my personas talked to her last week.”

“I’m sure she chose John Paul Jones as her interviewer.”

“Actually,” the AI said, without looking up from his notes, “she went with Admiral Nelson. It took us a few seconds to render the HMS Victory under full sail, but it was an informative discussion.”

“Good. I bought her beers after she got out of rehab. That woman is a straight-up badass. She lost an arm during that exchange.”


The OCEANUS feed was looking grim. The Yuzhao had blunted the corvettes’ attacks and was now turning its efforts to neutralizing the flotilla, which was just buying time until the inevitable. The unmanned vessels and Fiberclads used their aggregated swarm to protect the Hughes. One by one the Lakes were being sacrificed as their HPM pulses and CIWS flechette shells were not enough to save them alone.

The smaller Fiberclads died first. Then Tahoe absorbed over a dozen hits before succumbing. Okeechobee was staggered by repeated impacts until a UUV was able to catch up to it. ‘Okee’ broke in half like the Seneca, keel snapped by an underwater explosion. Then the friendly swarm broke away and headed to deflect the attack on the tender.

V-M said what they all realized. “The Hughes is sending the flotilla’s swarm to protect us.”

The friendly UAVs intercepted their Chinese counterparts just as they were reaching the outskirts of the seafarm. The Sea Eagles were able to shoot down drones without sacrificing themselves, while others, such as the Petrels, had to ram the opposition to make an effect. The Polillo 2 was spared.

The Hughes paid the price. Opening broadside to the section of the swarm bearing down on it, it could only rely on its self-defense mounts and was beset by the autonomous adversaries. It fared a little better than the rest of the corvettes, but was still hit numerous times. Dead in the water, the Hughes’ weapons went silent.

“The swarm has been significantly thinned out. It looks like it is pulling back to reconstitute on the Yuzhao,” OS2 breathed out.

“Still trying to get to us over the networks,” CTR2 reported, reading the JANUS feeds. “We don’t have enough resources for our instance of JANUS to out-cycle whatever they are using. It’s only a matter of time before our they are in our network.”

MJOLNIR inbound, OCEANUS reported.

“Never mind.” Cruz whispered.

Fernandez looked at the large display in above terminals. The Yuzhao was 17 miles distant and headed away, wake boiling behind, an anemic swarm of drones in company. Then the enemy ship shook as if a giant finger flicked it. An upper part of the superstructure spiraled away as a gaping hole was punched starboard amidships at the weatherdecks, and the hypersonic projectile exited the port side, spraying a shotgun pattern of debris in the water far beyond.

“Wow. Never seen one of those….” Sara let slip.

“Me neither.” OS2 added. “Higher ups must have really wanted it dead.”

The critically damaged LPD began to slow, fires and smoke pouring from amidships. That hit alone was enough to sink it, even though it was above the waterline. But then the ship went up. A huge fireball began deep in in its hold, followed by a shockwave through the water that could be felt miles away on the Polillo 2. When the blast subsided, what was left of the bow and stern of the broken ship was settling into the water.

V-M began on his multicultural curses again, seemingly happy this time.

“What was that thing carrying?” Cruz asked.

“Probably missile batteries to reinforce an atoll somewhere around here.” Fernandez said. “OS2, what’s the status of the Chinese swarm?”

“OCEANUS shows eleven drones still active of various types.” V-M replied, now done with the swearing. “The blast took out the rest, and there is no local swarm controller now. But we can’t do anything if they are still out there, they’ll self-organize and still be hostile.”

“CTR2, work with US1 to get another pair of drones up. I want JANUS to take control of those drones and splash them.”

“Will do Ma’am.” Cruz replied.

Sara picked up the IC phone again. “Captain, we can go to assist the Hughes now.”

“Looks like it is barely afloat,” Aquino observed. “And what’s left of the Chinese ship is almost under. We’ll see if there are any very lucky Chinese survivors from that blast after we go to the Hughes. Continue acting all civilian and innocent?”

“That’s right.” Fernandez said. “We’re not onboard, remember?” Which was a pity. She wanted to shake the hand of every sailor on that corvette. Instead, her Det will have to hide until they transferred the survivors to a larger Indian or Japanese warship, which was probably now on its way after detecting the clash.

“Let’s hope those Cormorants took all of the Chinese UUVs. By the way, that was one of the craziest f’ing things that I have ever seen,” he added.

“You and me both.” The Det OIC laughed.


“The covert USN and PLAN vessels rarely came to blows. The engagement between your seafarm tender and the Chinese LPD showed two different means of gray zone warfare with different platforms. One, a concealed warship, the other a fishing vessel with military capabilities.”

“Which, ironically, was a Chinese tactic decades before we did it.” Sara added.

Underlining something in his notes, the AI observed, “Your actions uncovered a PLA operation to establish a bastion in Micronesia.”

She shrugged. “I guess a good cover was a fleet of large vessels supposedly netting tuna.”

“There was an island outpost that was not going to be a threat until the hypersonic batteries arrived. The Det on Polillo 2 revealed that shipment and protected Guam from those missiles. You blocked their next ‘Go’ move.”

Sara paused before saying, “I’ve told very few people over the past twenty years about what happened that day.”

“Well, now you have approval to get it on the record.” The interviewer AI said, making a show of turning over a fresh leaf of paper in his notebook.

“Where shall I start?” CDR Sara Fernandez (ret.) began. “We were only a few days out on an op out of Palawan when my CIC watch messaged me at breakfast…”

Chris O’Connor is a Supply Corps Officer in the U.S. Navy. He has had tours at CNO Strategic Studies Group and CNO Rapid Innovation Cell, and is Vice President of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). He has written a number of fiction and non-fiction pieces on the future of warfare.

Featured Image: “Grand Imperial Navy” by Rhys Bevan (via Artstation)

The General Quarters Drill

The following is an excerpt from The Cruiser by David Poyer and is republished with permission. Copyright © 2014 by David Poyer. All rights reserved. 

By David Poyer

The bonging went on and on, echoing the length of the ship. The boatswain leaned to the 1MC. “Now general quarters, general quarters, all hands man your battle stations. General quarters traffic route, up and forward to starboard; aft and down to port. Set material condition Zebra throughout the ship. Now general quarters!”
            The pilothouse burst into a frenzied bustle. Watchstanders grabbed for GQ gear, bowing to tuck and tape the cuffs of coveralls into socks. They pulled heavy padded flash gear, hoods and gloves—standard issue since USS Horn’s nuclear destruction not far from these waters—on over the coveralls, leaving only eyes peering out. They strapped gas masks rigged for quick donning on their thighs. Petty officers broke out sound-powered phones, in case comms went down. They passed out the same heavy steel helmets the Navy had issued in World War II, and banged open lockers of flotation devices and emergency breathing gear.

            Dan was out on the wing, polishing his binoculars with lens paper, when the officer of the deck brought him out his helmet. The letters CO were stenciled in red on the front. He settled its weight on the crown of his skull. The wind gusted cold. Dawn was just breaking, a dull illumination that barely limned a charcoaled horizon, hardly distinguished sea from clouded sky. The stern light of a cargo ship glowed like a distant comet. Savo Island rolled slightly, charging through wind-ruffled onyx swells at twelve knots. Not all that fast, but he had to balance a desire not to present a stationary target with the need to conserve fuel.
            Yeah, fuel. He frowned. Need to get with Bart Danenhower about that. He had no idea how long they’d be out here, and the Navy might not want to risk a tanker close inshore during a hot war.
            Which might start any day. Any hour.
            “Time: plus one minute,” the 1MC announced.
So he’d decided on an old-fashioned general quarters drill. From the expressions around him, especially on the faces of the younger troops, they hadn’t heard that pulse-pounding gong often since the last week of boot camp. But if Savo was as vulnerable as he feared, every man and woman aboard had to be ready to survive blast, flooding, fragments, and fire. As he glanced in at them through the window, for just a fraction of a second memory intruded.
            He’d been looking away when it had happened. Fortunately. But even looking away, everything around him—sea, steel, cloth—had turned the brightness of the noon sun. The starboard lookout had screamed, dropping his binoculars, clutching his eyes. But the dreadful, burning light had gone on and on, as if someone had opened the scuttle to Hell.
            Dan hadn’t actually thought about what was happening. Drill alone had driven him across the bridge, slamming into the chart table, to shove the quartermaster aside and shout into the mike, “Nuclear detonation, brace for shock!”
            The deck had jolted upward as he’d crashed down onto it, whiplashing him back up into the air. Dust and paint chips had leaped out of cable runs to fog the pilothouse. An instant later the windows had come in on them with a crack like lightning tearing an oak apart. Only the sound had gone on, and on…
            He came back now to find himself staring white-eyed into his own reflection, kneading his neck. The old fracture. Then, as he blinked, his gaze suddenly plunged through, past the wing window he was looking into, to meet the puzzled eyes of a slight young seaman manning the remote operating console for the port 25mm. The squished-together, almost toothless-looking old man’s face was familiar.
            Downie. “The Troll.” The goofball who’d left his pistol unattended on the quarterdeck just long enough for it to be stolen. The compartment cleaner who’d discovered a corpse cold in its bunk. They stared at each other for what seemed like a long time. Then Downie half-grinned, dropped his gaze, and squatted to adjust his gas mask carrier.
            Almarshadi bustled up in flash gear and flotation vest, carrying a rolled-up sheaf of bond. Dan beckoned him closer. Trying to control suddenly ragged breathing, a racing heart, reaching for the cool impassivity everyone expected of him. Trying to forget Horn, and what had happened to all too many of her crew.
            Under his command.
            “Fahad, good morning. Fine Navy day, right?”
            The exec shivered. He cast a doubtful eye at the clouds. “Absolutely, Captain. Spectacular Navy day.”
            “Built the training package?”
            “Bart and I got it written up last night.”
            “Good. Couple of issues on the bridge team. I want protective goggles for them too. Have them wrap a pair in the flash gear hood so they get them on at the same time as their hoods. Second, aren’t they supposed to have flak jackets? Do we have those?”
            “Hermelinda might have goggles in stock. And we…not flak jackets…we have, um, ballistic protection gear for the boarding party.”
            “Move it up here. We won’t be doing any opposed boarding. I’d rather have the bridge team ready to keep fighting if we take a fragmentation hit.”
             “Time: plus two minutes.”
            The OOD leaned out. “Captain, XO: General quarters set. All stations report manned and ready. Time, two minutes and fifteen seconds.”

            Dan gave Almarshadi the gimlet eye. With a ready time like that, someone had leaked the drill. He got a shamefaced grin back. “All right,” he told the OOD. “Have the bo’s’un pass, ‘Work center supervisor now carry out EBD and emergency egress drills.’” Almarshadi waited, tapping the rolled-up papers against his thigh. Dan looked aft, then up, giving the crew a few more minutes to get set. But something was missing. After a moment he realized what. “Get our colors up!” he yelled into the pilothouse, and added, to Almarshadi, “And leave them up, as long as we’re on station out here.”
            “Aye sir. Goggles, ballistic vests, battle colors.”
            A quartermaster—there were no signalmen anymore—double-timed to the flag shack and began breaking out the oversized Stars and Stripes. When it was snapping free against the gray sky, huge and bright and crackling in the cold wind, he looked up for a long time. Filling his sight with red and blue and white like some essential nutrient he’d been short on for too long.
            Reynolds Ryan was gone. Van Zandt was gone. Horn was still radioactive, but he’d brought her back. Less than half as many ships out here now as when he’d stepped aboard his first destroyer so many years before. But the U.S. Navy was still on station.
            Still on station…
            He took a deep breath, wondering why he was suddenly fighting tears. Fuck. Fuck! What would happen to these kids? Was Savo doomed too? He’d just left the Navy command center when Flight 77 had punched through the limestone skin of the Pentagon, blasting the space and everyone in it with fuel-flame and razor-sharp metal, turning everything in the C ring into fire and collapsing concrete. Niles, and the others who’d called him a Jonah, a curse, a doom—were they right?
            No. They couldn’t be. He’d never have taken this command if he’d really believed that.
            So why was the imp of self-doubt still whispering in his ear that he wasn’t good enough, wasn’t competent enough? That when the chips were down, he’d lack what it took.
            He’d always come through before, true. Oh, sure, the imp sneered. But one of these days…
            A clearing of the throat beside him. Dan looked down from the streaming colors to find the XO regarding him. He dragged himself back into the present, into the bite of a frigid wind. And told Almarshadi, “Okay, that was your drill schedule there? No, I’m sure it’s fine. Take charge, Fahad. Go ahead and take charge.”

David Poyer’s sea career included service in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Arctic, Caribbean, and Pacific. He’s the author of nearly fifty novels and works of nonfiction, including the Dan Lenson War with China series: Tipping Point, Onslaught, Hunter Killer, Deep War, and Overthrow. His next book, Violent Peace, will be published this December. Poyer’s work has been required reading in the Literature of the Sea course at the U.S. Naval Academy, along with that of Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville. He lives on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Featured Image: ATLANTIC OCEAN (July 23, 2019) The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) transits the Atlantic Ocean July 23, 2019.(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael H. Lehman/Released)

NavyCon 2020: Navies, Science Fiction, and Great Power Competition

By Claude Berube

Three years ago, Jerry Hendrix, Mark Vandroff, CDR Salamander, and I were reminiscing about old sci-fi shows and their navy traits. Half-jokingly, I suggested we put together a science fiction convention focused on navies. And then it happened. The result was the first NavyCon in 2017 which was a one-day event held at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum.

At its conclusion, I received comments from the audience and emails from strangers asking when the next event would be held. We won’t wait three years for the next one. This event is intended to take a serious (as well as sometimes light-hearted) approach in understanding how science fiction might help us think differently about navies of today or the near future. Science fiction is often unbound by conventional thinking. The technologies and platforms we find commonplace might have been considered fantastical just a century or two ago. It is human imagination that envisioned going to the moon and human ingenuity that made it happen. It is that same creativity and inspiration that will move us forward together.

Thank you to the presenters, special guests, and all the people who made this happen. I hope you enjoy this NavyCon.

See the NavyCon 2020 Program Guide here, and the full video replay and a listing of specific presentations below.

00:00-02:05 CDR Claude Berube, USNR, PhD
Director, US Naval Academy Museum

Opening remarks

02:06-07:25 CDR BJ Armstrong
Associate Chair, Department of History, U.S. Naval Academy

“The U.S. Navy and SciFi: From the Civil War to Midway”

07:26-09:04 Message from LT Kayla Barron
Naval Academy Class of 2010, NASA Astronaut

09:05-21:20 Keynote: Major General Mick Ryan
Commander, Australian Defence College
“Science Fiction and its Utility for the National Security Community”

21:21-30:02 CDR Claude Berube, USNR, PhD
Director, U.S Naval Academy Museum
“How the Federation Overcame the Shipbuilding Gap before the Defense of Coppelius in
‘Star Trek Picard’”

30:03-42:28 Cory Hollon
U.S. Air Force
“The Kaiju Should Have Won: Force Deployment and Strategy in Pacific Rim”

42:33-43:52 Message from Dr. Kori Schake
Director of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies
American Enterprise Institute

44:06-57:40 August Cole
Co-author of “Ghost Fleet” and “Burn-In”
“When A Robot Has The Helm”

Standalone Video Jennifer Marland
Curator, NSWC-Carderock
“A Navy is Essential for your Planet: Wars Between Barrayar and Cetaganda in Lois
McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosiverse” 

1:03:15-1:07:17 Message from CDR Salamander 

1:14:55-1:26:18 Clara Engle
Department of Commerce
“Babylon 5 and International Relations Theory”

1:26:45-1:41:37 Randy Papadopoulos
Historian for the Secretary of the Navy
“Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Why Space Warfare will be about Fleets”

1:41:47-1:43:38 Message from Hugh Hewitt

1:43:52-1:59:40 MAJ Thomas Harper, JAG, USAR
“It’s a Trap! The Intersection of the Battle of Endor & the Law of Armed Conflict”

2:00:02-2:12:08 Jonathan Bratten
Command Historian/Maine National Guard
“Perils of Joint Command: Imperial Disaster at Endor”

2:12:37-2:24-54 Ian Boley
PhD candidate, History, Texas A&M University
“Sidewinders, Sunbeams, and Negaspheres: Skunkworks and Rapid Innovation in the
Lensman Series”

2:25:21-2:38:40 CAPT Jerry Hendrix, USN (ret.) PhD
Vice President, The Telemus Group
“Honorverse: Revolutions in Military Affairs and the Weapons Development Board”

2:38:53-2:41:55 Message from Congressman Mike Gallagher

2:42:49-2:56-53 David Larter
Reporter, Defense News
“Alien and the Operators”

2:57:00-3:06:21 CAPT Mark Vandroff, USN (ret.)
Deputy Assistant to the President & Senior Director for Defense Policy, National Security Council
“Engineering for Great Power Competition”

03:06:35-3:10:27 Message from author David Weber

03:10:40-03:31:10 Christopher Weuve
“Aircraft Carriers in Space!”

03:31:25-3:46:05 CDR Phil Pournelle, USN (ret.)
“Traveler’s Trillion Credit Squadron Game and Future Fleet Architecture”

03:46:21-3:47:05 CDR Claude Berube, USNR, PhD 
Director, U.S. Naval Academy Museum
Closing Remarks

Commander Claude Berube, USNR, PhD, teaches history at the U.S. Naval Academy, is the Director of the Naval Academy Museum, and is a former Senate staffer and defense contractor. His next two books will be released in the next year. The views above are the author’s alone and not necessarily reflect those of the Navy or Naval Academy.

Featured Image: “Star Wars: Battle of Coruscant” by Dave Seeley via Artstation.

Sink ‘Em All: Envisioning Marine Corps Maritime Interdiction

Chokepoints and Littorals Topic Week

By Dustin League and Dan Justice

“Motor vessel Pangjang, you are entering a United States-designated exclusion zone. Due to the current state of war between the People’s Republic of China (PRC), immediately secure your engines and await further instructions. In accordance with *static* you will be directed to proceed to a nearby inspection and control point. If you deviate from these instructions, your vessel will be stopped with appropriate force.”

The master of the Chinese owned-and-operated bulk carrier Píng Jìng De Hǎi Yáng shook his head in disgust, only some of which was due to the American bastardization of his ship’s name. On the outbreak of war, the U.S. had designated the whole of the South China Sea along with the entire Indonesian and Philippine archipelagos as exclusion zones, ordering all merchant traffic to comply with strict traffic lanes and subjecting all vessels to inspections as part of their effort to blockade the People’s Republic into submission. Even long-time allies of the U.S. had voiced concerns over the scope of the U.S. restrictions, and protests had been logged not only by the PRC but by several affected ASEAN nations.

The PRC protest had largely been a pro forma move even as they recognized the toothless nature of the orders. The U.S. Navy, even with the support of local allies, lacked the capacity to simultaneously combat the People’s Liberation Army and Navy’s consolidation of rogue Taipei and patrol their exclusion zone. Even maintaining sufficient forces near chokepoints such as Malacca, Sunda, and Lombok Straits represented an unaffordable strain on USN forces. The Píng Jìng De Hǎi Yáng, like all of the carriers whose cargoes the PRC had designated as national resources, had been provided with daily status reports by the government on the status of enemy forces in the area and that, confirmed by his own shipboard radar, showed no Americans or their allied warships within hundreds of miles. Their Coast Guard had established an inspection station roughly halfway between Sunda and Lombok Straits off the south coast of East Java. It was undermanned and overloaded with compliant shipping. Some of the PRC’s own vessels, those with less strategically important cargos, had even been directed to the station in order to provide reports on its operations. In addition to U.S. and allied Coast Guard vessels, there was apparently a sizeable contingent of U.S. Marines conducting visit and inspections.

Militarily, the ship’s master had more limited information. He knew that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) operations around Taipei were proceeding successfully despite America’s futile attempts to roll them back. The U.S. carriers were being held at bay and kept beyond their ability to strike by the Second Artillery, and the PLAN surface fleet had established a secure perimeter around the island. Supposedly, the U.S. had established missile batteries on the northern tip of the Philippines, but they lacked the range needed to hit the fleet. Purportedly the U.S. submarine force remained a significant threat, but the ship’s master had no information on their operations. Neither the PRC nor the Americans were revealing any details on lost submarines, so it was impossible for him to gauge which side held the advantage in the undersea war. When the ship’s master had been notified that his vessel was now considered a critical national asset and subject to the military command to run the U.S. blockade, he’d been assured that the U.S. submarines would not bother wasting a torpedo on his vessels. They would need to save their inventory for PLAN vessels which, he had also been assured, could protect themselves.

There had been news of American amphibious forces trying to hop across the south Pacific on small, empty coral islands like they had done eighty years ago, but no warships. Even the challenge had been sent not by a USN warship or Coast Guard vessel but from a large unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) circling high above. The master also had reports on those UAVs, they were long-endurance reconnaissance types with no organic armaments. Another empty threat. Once he passed through the Lombok Strait and into the South China Sea, the risks he took in running the U.S. blockade would increase, but he would also be entering into the PRC’s own backyard where they could provide direct protection.

“Maintain course and speed,” He ordered. “Ignore all further hails.” His bridge crew acknowledged his order with calm, quiet professionalism. If any of them disagreed with the assessment of the situation as he’d briefed that morning, none showed their concerns. The drone circling overhead continued to pace them, repeating its message, its demands growing increasingly terse and harsh. The ship’s master counted no less than three times his vessel was threatened with lethal force with never a blip on the radar to indicate a closing vessel or aircraft. Open seas, open skies, and toothless demands.

Twenty-five minutes after the initial challenge, two long-range anti-ship missiles, their telemetry continually updated by the overhead drone, slammed into the Píng Jìng De Hǎi Yáng. One hit amidships just above the waterline, its warhead punching through the hull to let the ocean flood in. The second, less than a second later, struck the superstructure, taking out the entire bridge. The missile hits were insufficient to sink a vessel as large as the Píng Jìng De Hǎi Yáng, but they were more than capable enough to leave it a helpless derelict. Mission kill.


First Lieutenant Tommy Hart, Commanding Officer of Charlie Platoon, 1st Battalion 3rd Marines, reviewed the video footage, noting the impact points and subsequent motion of the vessel. Smoke billowed thick and black in a column that rose as high as the UAV’s own operating altitude before being thinned by the wind. Finally satisfied, he logged the first kill of his maritime interdiction platoon.

“Flash , Flash, Flash, Alpha Sierra, Alpha Mike, this is Hotel Charlie Six,” Hart said into the radio, calling both the Surface Warfare Commander and the Amphibious Element Coordinator at the same time, “Splash, Skunk Two, with Bruiser, Over.” The acknowledgment came back. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought it was the first such kill of the war and he felt pride in his team. And maybe just a twinge of instinctual moral qualm. He’d joined the Marines to defend his nation and he’d fully expected that would mean killing the enemy during times of war; but when he’d joined Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps he hadn’t thought of unarmed oil tankers as “the enemy.”   

He noted the position of the tanker – fifty miles south of Lombok Strait and eighty miles from his own position on East Java. Well inside the range of the anti-ship missiles on his High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) but close to the edge of his targeting UAV’s range. The range from the strait was critical. Hart wasn’t privy to the governmental horse-trading that had to be going on behind the scenes, but he knew that Indonesia had demanded strong assurances before allowing the Marines to deploy their chokepoint control stand-in forces on their territory; chief among those was the requirement that no vessels be sunk within twelve nautical miles of any of the straits’ entrances.

Against almost any kind of PLAN warship the strike would have been impossible. First there would have been the difficulty in finding a target – warships maneuvered too often, too fast, and refused to follow predictable transit paths – which would have exhausted his small UAVs’ endurance. Then there was the problem of PLAN anti-air defenses. Even with the new missiles, the HIMARS’ ability to generate a large enough salvo to overwhelm a modern frigate or destroyer’s defense was woefully insufficient. But merchant vessels and oil tankers were another matter. Those he knew where to find – if they wanted to deliver to resources the PRC so desperately needed, they would have to come through Lombok Strait or one of the other chokepoints in the archipelagos surrounding the South and East China Seas. Lombok was the responsibility of his company, the others were guarded by similar U.S. Marine Corps units. Small stand-in forces, rapidly deployed around the First Island Chain, teamed with unmanned systems for patrolling the adversary’s sea lines of communication, finding and challenging their shipping, and finally targeting them for the HIMARS’ missiles.

“Nice flying, Torres,” he said to the young Marine who’d been piloting the UAV. Torres has been near the top of her class at Fort Huachuca and could always seem to squeeze an extra 30 or 60 minutes out of the UAV’s batteries. Endurance wasn’t a big factor now, the drone had only been up six hours. Seventh fleet had sent them the Píng Jìng De Hǎi Yáng track earlier that morning from a Triton that was up, allowing Hart to plan his UAV time well. In a combat zone as large as the Pacific, even the remarkable range and endurance of Hart’s tactical UAVs was insufficient to large-area search problems. The coordination of assets and passing of track data through the Global Combat Support System – Navy Marine Corps was critical to the platoon’s mission.

“Push their updated position, course, and speed to Geeks so the Coasties can send someone out to haul her to port.”   

“All right everyone, time to move,” he ordered the rest of the platoon. “Handoff to Baker Platoon in fifteen.” They were outside the PRC’s anti-access/area-denial zone of control, but there was still enough risk in detection that no one wanted to wait around for a retaliatory PLAN strike. His platoon was already making preparations to step off. The HIMARS crew were completing final post-firing checks and battening down for departure. His entire platoon consisted of four elements; two semi-truck sized HIMARS batteries, a UAV carrier roughly the same size that could carry four of the long-range drones; a counter-precision guided munition point defense battery; and a small transport. A lot of firepower for a first lieutenant, though he’d feel unarmed until he could get the HIMARS batteries re-loaded from one of the company’s caches.

They had only been on Lombok for a week, dropped off from the Essex, their gear and the HIMARS truck brought ashore by some of the “Mike Boats” the Marines had started picking out of the various boneyards across the country. Already Hart was starting to fantasize about a shower and a burger when they would be picked back up after another 10 to 12 days. Or would there be enough shooting that they’d go Winchester early? He shook those thoughts from his head and returned his attention to the pack out. They would be packed up and on the road within thirty minutes. Until he could reposition and redeploy his force, this sector of the U.S. exclusion zone would be the responsibility of Baker Platoon who, he knew, was roughly fifty miles west of his position, on the other side of Lombok Strait itself.

Within hours, Hart knew, the crippling of the Píng Jìng De Hǎi Yáng would be all over the news. The PRC would shout in protest and the U.S. would again assert its ability to enforce exclusion zones during a time of war. The Navy and Marine Corps would explain both the need and the precedent for such operations – one had only to look back to World War II when the Navy had declared unrestricted submarine and air warfare against Japanese commercial traffic. He suspected other PRC vessels would continue trying to run the blockade and there would be a handful of more high-profile sinkings, but he doubted they would last for long. Once it became clear that the Marines could and would effectively target and destroy any uncooperative vessel, there would be very, very few ship masters willing to take the risk.

Hart had not joined the Marine Corps expecting this kind of mission. He’d joined at a time when the USMC had just begun a major re-alignment, shifting from protracted ground operations back to a role supporting naval operations in the littorals. Even then he’d expected to be employing the capabilities of his platoon against adversary naval targets – against warships. But there’d been a need to expand the USMC role beyond naval and into maritime support. The Corps had purchased the weapons and developed the skills needed to combat a great power, but like the submarine force in World War II, they’d found that those same capabilities could be far more effective against an adversary’s commerce. And, like the silent service, what had once been seen as a “lesser included mission” had become a critical role in a major war.


The vignette described above is an attempt to expand on some of the concepts described in Commandant Berger’s Planning Guidance to the US Marine Corps.[1] The capabilities employed by Lieutenant Hart’ platoon –  the HMARS armed with anti-ship missiles, the tactically-controlled long-range UAVs, and the counter-precision guided missile defense – are all explicitly called for in that document. The uses we postulate for them – the destruction of unarmed merchant vessels in defense of a distant blockade – are not. Such use relies on several underlying assumptions about the nature of a future conflict which may or may not be borne out. First that the United States enters into war with another great power. Second, that in such a war the U.S. would again resort to a similar commerce destruction strategy that was a keystone of the Pacific War against Japan. Third, that the U.S. Marine Corps would be tasked with such a role. Fourth, that U.S. allies or neutral nations in the region would allow a force like Hart’s to operate on their territory. Even with the 350 nautical mile missiles and 200 nautical mile drones the Commandant of the Marine Corps has called for, the Marines need somewhere to stand.

Berger has called on the Marines to become an integrated naval force to prioritize operations in the littorals that support the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations concept and counter great power rival investments in anti-access/area-denial capabilities. The missions implied in the guidance call for Marine stand-in forces to operate inside contested zones and provide anti-ship and anti-air fires, with the strong implication that the target set will be the enemy’s military assets. Going against the PLAN on their home turf, the Navy should certainly welcome the additional firepower; however, it may not be the best use of the Marines’ new capabilities.

There is no shortage of commentary on the tyranny of distance the USN would face if it finds itself in a shooting war with China. It bears repeating again. Assuming an invasion of Taiwan as the source of conflict, and PLAN deployments converge around the island nation, there is precious little real estate for the USMC to place its stand-in forces and still have the range to hit their targets. Additionally, simply getting missiles in range will be of little use if they cannot penetrate the target defenses. The PLAN has capable warships with modern anti-air defenses that will require extremely capable missiles fired in large salvos to defeat. How many HIMARS batteries will be needed to achieve a mission kill on even a single PLAN destroyer, let alone a surface action group with coordinated defenses? 

The U.S. Navy went through a similar experience in the lead up to World War II. The submarine community had spent the interwar years developing a fleet of boats to combat the Imperial Japanese Navy, softening it up before the expected battle line confrontation by attriting IJN warships. Instead, those boats which had been built to sink battleships spent much of the war sinking Japanese merchant vessels, choking Japan’s critical supply lines. What had been seen as, at best, a lesser included mission, became the defining task of the community.

Joel Ira Holwitt’s Execute Against Japan[2] details the evolution of U.S. Naval thought and policy on unrestricted warfare. It chronicles the long process of legal, ethical, and strategic issues the Navy had to work through before executing the doctrine. The analogy is not perfect of course. China is not an island, dependent on outside resources to the same extent as was Japan. However, this line of thinking is still valid, and it is important to consider if what we might need to do wasn’t already planned for. Similarly, the Marine Corps should be exploring the larger mission set inherent in maritime operations. That may involve commerce destruction in support of blockade operations and chokepoint control. It may involve seizure of China’s “string of pearl” bases around the globe. As the Marines conduct the extensive wargaming and analysis Gen. Berger also calls for, they should look beyond the inherently military target set in a specific region and embrace the potential for action across the larger maritime domain.

The commandant is committed to designing a Marine Corps which will remain the “Force of Choice.” He has outlined the salient features he believes that force will require, the challenges it will face, and the path to getting it built. While General Berger’s assessment, goals, and methods are welcomed, a broader vision for the naval services is needed, one which harnesses their capabilities across the whole range of maritime security.

Dustin League is a Senior Military Operations Analyst at Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. and a former U.S. Navy Submarine Warfare Officer. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect those of SPA, Inc.

LCDR Dan Justice is a U.S. Navy Foreign Affairs Officer and former Submarine Warfare Officer. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect those of the U.S. Navy.


1. Berger, G. D. (2019, July 17). Commandant’s Planning Guidance. Retrieved from Marine Corps Electronic LIbrary:

2. Holwitt, J. I. (2009). Execute Against Japan: The U.S. Decision to Conduct Unrestricted Submarine Warfare. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press.

Featured Image: “S-300V” by Mikhail Selevonik via Artstation