A version of this story originally appeared in June. It has been updated by the author to reflect recent events.
Iran threatens to mine the Strait of Hormuz, petroleum markets react, world economies take notice, and more U.S. and allied naval forces are sent to the region, upping the ante for Tehran and the U.S. Navy.
Iran’s top naval commander, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, late last year warned that closin the strait would be “easier than drinking a glass of water.” The Obama administration publicly dismissed the threat as “aber rattling,” but also privately informed Tehran that attempting to close the strait would trigger a U.S. military response.
U.S. Navy photo of the USS Enterprise and USS Cape St. George transitioning through the Strait of Hormuz on May 11.
“The laying of mines in international waters is an act of war,” Vice Adm. Mark Fox, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, said in a Feb. 12 interview.
“We would, under the direction of the national leadership, prevent that from happening. We always have the right and obligation of self-defense and this falls in self-defense. If we did nothing and allowed some mining,” he noted, “it would be a long and difficult process to clear them.”
Whether an “act of war” or not (the international rules — admittedly more honored in their breach than observation— do allow for peacetime mining of high-seas areas under certain strict conditions. Iranian officials have threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to U.S. and international sanctions over its nuclear program.
We might rephrase Theodore Roosevelt’s famous saying about “big stick” diplomacy thusly: Speak softly and carry a small stick, and you will go far—provided you have a big stick handy. That maxim has yielded good results for China in Southeast Asia. It could do so for the United States as well—if it manages its alliances and partnerships well and arranges its forces to match purpose with power.
Overpowering military might opens up new strategic vistas for the strong, letting them get their way while looking inoffensive if not magnanimous to foreign eyes. China has brandished a small stick in recent months, using unarmed ships from nonmilitary government agencies like China Marine Surveillance as its political implement of choice in the Scarborough Shoal imbroglio with the Philippines, and in its war of words with Vietnam over oil and gas exploration rights within Vietnam’s offshore exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. The EEZ is a 200 nautical mile belt (more in some cases) adjoining a coastal state’s shores. The coastal state holds exclusive rights to natural resources in those waters and the seabed underneath. Control of resources is critical to economic development—hence the passions expanses like the resource-rich South China Sea rouse.
Gunboat diplomacy without the gunboats sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Here’s how small-stick diplomacy works. A country whose armed forces decisively outmatch a competitor’s can afford not to openly display those forces in international controversies. It can make the weak an offer they can’t refuse, and they have little recourse. It can hope to win without fighting—and get its way without even looking like an aggressor before the court of world opinion. Why unlimber the big stick when virtual coercion or deterrence promises the same results?
Proceedings, July 2012
On 14 October 2011, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus shared his vision of the “Great Green Fleet” at the Naval Energy Forum in McLean, Virginia. The Honorable Mr. Mabus remarked that “in the drive for energy reform the goal has got to be increased warfighting capability.” Increased warfighting capability through energy reform? Is this really possible under the secretary’s timeline of the next ten years, or will warfighters be left with another constraint on their way into the combat zone?
Secretary Mabus effectively communicated how energy reform in the Department of Defense could immediately reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. But at what cost? For many in the armed services, “energy efficiency” might conjure images of turning down the thermostat, putting on a sweater, and learning to enjoy cold showers. For the surface Navy, an effective way to cut fuel consumption would be to remain pierside. While fighting wars, however, cutting corners and decreasing underway training time can cost lives. Metaphorical sweaters and cold showers decrease the Navy’s capability and do not meet the secretary’s intent.
The important distinction in the secretary’s remarks is that he established himself as a champion of energy efficiency, not conservation. Although military professionals may be masters of doing more with less, energy efficiency on board our warships will instead involve doing the same with less. Or, alternatively, doing more with the same: increased warfighting capability through energy efficiency.
[Northrop Grumman Photo]
CRYSTAL CITY, VIRGINIA — Three nautical miles from an amphibious assault ship, I toggled a small button labeled “STOVL,” or short take-off and vertical landing. The abbreviation “REDY” flashed in green and I could see thrust vector angles change on my heads-up display in my F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter. I adjusted what my instructor called the cruise control and set my airspeed to 80 kts. All of a sudden, my flight controls changed as the “REDY” turned solid. I had transitioned to vertical flight.
With minimal coaching, after two minutes I had landed safely on the flight deck of a U.S. Navy ship. Though I briefly felt pride after my landing, I quickly realized that a computer had done all of the hard flying for me.
Computers and cockpits are nothing new, but with the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles and the degree to which computers control piloted aircraft today, policy makers and military leaders are asking when pilots can be removed completely from combat aircraft.
On the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, The U.S. Naval Institute has collected a series of photos from the pivotal battle from our archives. more
A wave strikes the side of to the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187) as it conducts a replenishment at sea with the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) on July,7.
[U.S. Navy Photo]
The U.S. Navy kicked of its annual Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises last Friday and will use the world’s largest naval exhibition to test its concept for powering expeditionary operations on biofuels. A carrier strike group, dubbed the Great Green Fleet, is the culmination of several years of testing in the biofuels arena and will serve as the Navy’s first top-to-bottom test of a force that could go to war powered by alternative energies. But parochial interests in Congress threaten to undo the Navy’s progress on biofuels and undermine efforts to build a cost-competitive biofuels market.
When the House Armed Services Committee took up its annual debate over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2013, questions about the Navy’s biofuels program quickly came to the forefront. When the bill hit the House floor in May, two provisions had been added during markup of the bill by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX). Biofuels backers see the provisions as an attempt to undercut the Navy’s ambitious effort, which they contend hurts efforts to stabilize Defense Department fuel costs and offset DOD’s dependence on foreign fossil-based fuels.
The first provision, which is more symbolic than substantive, exempts DOD from the so-called Section 526 requirements contained in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The section requires government-purchased alternative fuels to have a lower greenhouse gas impact than current fossil fuels. DOD says it doesn’t need the waiver, but, within the biofuels industry, section 526 is seen as a levy holding back cheaper but more pollutant-intensive fuels like coal-to-liquid.
Proceedings, July 2012
Amphibious capability has become associated primarily with assaulting defended beaches and seizing lodgments for land campaigns. However, such forces provide much broader capability to the nation than that narrow mission profile. Stripped to its essence, an amphibious capability places an intact, ready-to-operate landing force ashore and supports it from the sea to accomplish the mission.
“It seems demonstrable, therefore, that as commerce is the engrossing and predominant interest of the world to day . . . [t]he instrument for the maintenance of policy directed upon these objects is the Navy.”
— Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan, USN
Much of today’s discussion of international relations is based on the core idea that globalization has radically changed the political landscape of the world. Today’s thinkers, writers, and strategists tell us that because the world is flat, and we are closer to each other than ever before, we are in uncharted seas. In 2011 LCDR Matt Harper suggested in an award-winning article in the pages of Proceedings that the economic ties between China and the United States, the “Walmart Factor,” made military conflict almost impossible. Recently the discussion has once again been taken up in the pages of Proceedings. In the April issue, Lt. Cmdr. Rachel Gosnell and Lt. Michael Orzetti wrote a piece suggesting that a great power conflict was still something that should be planned for in the 21st century. LT Doug Robb responded in May with his Now Hear This . . . “Why the Age of Great Power Conflict is Over.” He made a case familiar to readers of the contemporary writings of Tom Friedman or the idealism of Norman Angell early in the 20th century.
Naval History, August 2012
When Greta arrived at Times Square, a holiday atmosphere was taking hold. While the celebration was subdued compared to what would follow later that day, Greta sensed a vibrant energy in the air. Suited businessmen, well-dressed women, and uniformed soldiers and sailors entered the pandemonium from all directions. Some ran with no determined direction. Others walked with purpose. Some remained stationary, as if waiting for something big to happen. Greta paid no one particular person much attention.
Proceedings, June 2012
There is vigorous debate concerning the affordability of replacing the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs), which are set to begin retiring in 15 years. Originally projected to cost $7.7 billion per unit, concern is growing that the “SSBN(X)” future follow-on submarine would crowd out funding necessary to modernize the rest of the Fleet.