The Challenge

The Chief of Naval Operations invites entrants to submit an essay that applies lessons from throughout naval history to establishing and maintaining maritime superiority in an era of great power competition. Entrants should consider that today's era is marked by determined efforts by China and Russia to use all instruments of national power (e.g., economic, political, and military) to compete for commercial, geostrategic, political, and military advantage and access. Essays should provide lessons from history that can be applied today.

Entrants should consider that today's era is marked by:

     a.  Determined and increasingly aggressive efforts by China and Russia to coordinate their respective instruments of power (e.g., economic, political, and military) to compete for commercial, geostrategic, political, and military advantage and access.

     b.  Chinese and Russian expansion across the spectrum of military operations (competition, crisis, and contingency) and domains (sea, air, land, space, cyberspace, and electromagnetic spectrum).

     c.  The rise of China as an economic and maritime power and the importance of the maritime domain and the need for the U.S. to integrate Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard operations and multi-domain operational concepts and capabilities.

     d.  The increased importance of navies, sea control, and allies and partners in a globalized world where 90 percent of world trade (by volume) and information travels via the seas or undersea cables.

     e.  The proliferation of advanced weaponry and the erosion of key U.S. technological advantages that makes it difficult for the U.S. to project power to manage crises, deter aggression, and reassure allies and partners.

     f.  Fundamental strategic and technological changes that promise to change the character and conduct of naval warfare and challenge the Navy’s ability to adapt conceptually and materially.


  • U.S. and international professional historians (including history museum curators, archivists, history teachers/professors, persons with history-related doctoral degrees, or
  • Authors of books on naval history (not including self-published works), or
  • Civilians who have published articles in an established historical or naval journal or magazine

Submission Guidelines

  • Word Count: 3,500 words maximum (excludes endnotes/sources).
  • Submit essay as a Word document online at:
  • Include word count on title page of essay but do not include author name(s) on title page or within the essay.
  • Note: Essays must be the author's original work, neither previously published (online or in print) or currently under consideration for publication elsewhere, nor previously submitted to the CNO Naval History Essay Contest.
  • Entrants may submit multiple essays, but the judging panel will select only one winning essay per entrant.
  • Author bios should include details of the author's eligibility for this contest.


$5,000 — First Prize

$2,500 — Second Prize

a.  Invitational travel orders to the 2021 CNO Naval History Essay Contest Awards Reception to meet the CNO and present their respective papers.

b.  Winners will be published in Naval History magazine or Proceedings and online with the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). Other essays may be published in Naval History or Proceedings and/or online by NHHC.

c. Copper sheathing from USS CONSTITUTION (provided by NHHC)

d. Recognition on NHHC's website.

e.  A one-year Naval Institute membership and a one-year subscription to Naval History magazine (courtesy of the Naval Institute).


Essays will be judged on the following criteria:

    a.  Relevance to the topic:  Applying lessons from naval history to establishing and maintaining maritime superiority in an era of great power competition;

    b.  Readability;

    c.  Thoroughness of research;

    d.  Quality of insights based on historical events;

    e.  Uniqueness/novelty of ideas presented.

This contest is judged in the blind. The Judging Committee will be composed of naval historians from the U.S. Naval Institute, U.S. Naval Academy, Naval War College, Naval Postgraduate School, Naval History and Heritage Command, and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Since we receive so many submissions (more than 100 per month!), notification of acceptance on one of our platforms can take 4-6 months. We will notify you via email if your essay is selected for a prize or for publication.

Selected Submissions

First Prize
Dr. Corbin Williamson
Second Prize
Andrew Blackley
The U.S. Naval Institute thanks General Dynamics for providing support for this contest.
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General Dynamics

Previous Winners