Small Wars Journal

The Ship is the Visual, Even in the Shadow Zones

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What Lies Between:

The Ship is the Visual, Even in the Shadow Zones

by Lieutenant Commander Claude G. Berube

Download the full article: The Ship is the Visual, Even in the Shadow Zones

U.S. foreign policy response to the latest incarnation of a multi-polar world has generated discussion within think tanks, the Pentagon, Congress, and industry on the appropriate naval force structure to maintain sea dominance in cooperation with partner states. While the U.S. Navy was designed to meet peer competitor, the same structure, directives, and policies have yet to adequately prepare for a transition from conventional naval warfare. The Navy has become accustomed to irregular challenges, such as conducting anti-piracy patrols. But non-state actors (NSAs) and non-governmental organizations currently operating on the maritime commons might illustrate how their operations and assets might be used in the future by other non-state actors, by state sponsors of irregular challenges, and by belligerent sponsors themselves. The nation and the Navy need to prepare for hybrid warfare at sea where people and platforms indistinguishable from traditional non-combatants are further complicated by geographical, legal, and public relations challenges.

Whether it is a bipolar or multi-polar world, the fundamental conditions required of state-to-state relations are the same: stable governments, systems of communication with one another, rules that guide their relations and enforcement mechanisms whether they are economic, political, or military in nature. When any one or more of those operating conditions is removed, the result is either anarchy or fault lines that pose security risks and can be exploited by irregular forces. As we have seen those circumstances on land, they might also be applied to the maritime commons.

Download the full article: The Ship is the Visual, Even in the Shadow Zones

Claude Berube is a Visiting Fellow for Maritime Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He has taught at the U.S. Naval Academy since 2005. A lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, he has been mobilized several times including a deployment to the Persian Gulf with Expeditionary Strike Group Five which included tsunami humanitarian relief operations in Sumatra, maritime interdiction operations, and anti-piracy operations off Somalia. He has worked on Capitol Hill for two Senators, for a defense firm, and as a civilian for the Office of Naval Intelligence.

About the Author(s)


BJ Armstrong (not verified)

Fri, 06/11/2010 - 9:46pm

Claude, I think its as much entrenched interest groups in the USN as it is budget constraints that limits numbers. In the joint environment each service guards their piece of the pie, the sizes of which haven't changed much in decades. Its no different within the services themselves. In the Navy CRUDES guys protect their ricebowl from the amphibs, Jet Jocks from the Rotorheads, etc. The result is an inflexible system that refuses to embrace flexibility or to consider new ideas like Influence Squadrons, etc.

Then again, a couple years ago we added 90,000 troops to the Army and Marine Corps...a couple years from now when they've all returned to garrison in the US why isn't that money better spent on a couple squadrons of corvettes or coastal patrol craft? Ah, those ricebowls again.

Claude Berube

Fri, 06/11/2010 - 2:06pm

I completely agree with you wrt the number of ships - a point that I made both last year in a SWJ submission ("The Post-Oceanic Navy") and an Orbis article two years ago. I personally believe we need more ships/assets for greater presence and capability but that the reality is that we've been at a downward trend with little expectation that will change given budget constraints unless something dramatically changes.


BJ Armstrong (not verified)

Thu, 06/10/2010 - 5:23pm

Naval presence and persistent global deployments are a macro level, global parallel to the "presence patrols" discussed here at SWJ, and other ideas that are part of the "discovered truth" of COIN.

The problem is, without a significant number of ships, the suggestions that LCDR Berube makes will only go so far. It doesn't matter how your ROE is structured if there is no ship in the area. The geography of naval operations, distances and time to travel, are commonly forgotten in our "globalized" instant gratification world.

Likewise the force structure debate must have numbers as a key element. The article is right about considering "commercial" ships. However, the discussion needs to be more than ships that look like civilian vessels, but also whether or not we build ships that are, in their construction method and standards, not much more than armed commercial vessels.