Captain Rubel’s thoughtful discussion includes a minor misrepresentation of Navy doctrine worthy of clarification. He is accurate in stating that Naval Doctrine Publication (NDP) 1: Naval Warfare highlights command of the seas as a fundamental strategic pillar of our nation, defining it as the “strategic condition of free and open access and usage of the seas necessary for our nation to flourish.” When he writes that the definition confuses cause and effect, he overlooks the very next sentence of the publication, which states “command of the seas is secured by our sea power—the influence generated by our ability to impose conditions from and within the maritime domain.”
NDP-1 explains how our sea power is generated by the U.S. ability to establish sea control and project power, deter adversaries, conduct maritime security, and sealift forces and resources as required to achieve strategic objectives—chief among them being command of the seas. It also discusses how the demonstrated capability to control the sea and project power generates influence—U.S. sea power—that must be part of any adversary’s calculus when considering options in pursuit of their own national objectives.
Captain Rubel acknowledges the power of this influence in his discussion of the Modelski-Thompson model and the correlation between ship counts and command of the seas. What the model really does is to use simple arithmetic to approximate sea power in making its compelling argument.
NDP-1 goes on to describe how sea power results from the orchestration of naval power to fight and win in the maritime domain and how U.S. naval power is secured by the quantity, capabilities, and combat-readiness of the country’s naval force.
Thus, NDP 1 provides a direct cause-and-effect linkage from individual sailor effort toward the combat readiness of their unit all the way to the strategic objective of command of the seas. Combat ready forces at the unit level contribute to tactical naval power. This contributes to the sea power at the operational level that, ultimately, achieves command of the seas at the strategic level.
NDP-1’s conclusion reinforces this cause-and-effect linkage: “Sea power underpins Mahan’s notion of command of the seas—that unimpeded use of the maritime domain is necessary for the nation to flourish. It is the Naval Service’s duty to protect and maintain this strategic condition; for our nation, and for the global economic order built upon the demonstrated might of our sea power.” As the article points out, command of the seas is U.S. national policy; it is not merely naval policy.
Understanding the relationships among naval power, sea power, and command of the seas is an essential first step to crafting an ends, ways, and means strategy that articulates a compelling vision for how the naval service can maintain command of the seas in the face of growing geopolitical challenges.
Captain Rubel’s lament that we must rediscover the concept of command of the seas is a worthwhile reminder that we should study diligently and think rigorously about it. Perhaps the best place to start is with our own doctrine!
—Thomas Negus and Robert E. Oldani, Navy Warfare Development Center
Lieutenant Colonel Kerg clearly explains the problems with having family members accompany military personnel in an area considered to be a potential war zone.
The U.S. Army and Air Force had some 300,000 service members stationed in Germany, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg from the late 1950s until 1991. There was a plan to evacuate family members and civilians supporting the military (e.g., Red Cross employees) known as the Noncombatant Evacuation Order (NEO). The initiation of NEO was controlled by the State Department, not the Defense Department (DoD). DoD periodically conducted briefings to remind everyone to ensure the validity of passports, update evacuation plans, determine the actual number of people requiring evacuation, etc. The longer the United States stayed in Western Europe, the more comfortable everyone became with the idea that the Cold War peace, although tense, would hold and NEO might never be needed. It was a calculated risk.
The paradox of NEO was that the evacuation by air would have coincided with the influx of ten Army divisions to reinforce U.S. Army Europe, which in peacetime consisted of approximately five divisions, often employing the same aircraft traveling in different directions. In part, its mission was to keep Rhein Main and Ramstein Air Force Bases open to disembark reinforcements. Of course, Warsaw Pact aircraft would have contested the air space over Germany and Western Europe at the same time reinforcements were being flown in on lumbering 747 aircraft. Once NEO was initiated, there would have been departing flights of 747s full of family members. One can imagine news reports about aircraft loaded with family members being shot down.
The difficulty in carrying out these disparate missions in the face of Warsaw Pact aerial opposition and the expected deployment of persistent chemical weapons seems obvious. Of course, while these two events were in motion, U.S. Army, Europe, and U.S. Air Force, Europe, would have been fighting a ground and air war in close proximity to the air bases. Also, it is likely many Germans would have been streaming westward to avoid Warsaw Pact forces in the eastern part of then West Germany.
Lieutenant Colonel Kerg raises the specter of this type of operation in Okinawa or Guam. Perhaps the compromise would be an 18-month unaccompanied tour to Okinawa. Twelve months is too short, given that the first and last months of any tour are spent getting settled into a new unit and concluding a tour.
—MAJ David Weatherby, USA (Ret.)
The War of 2026 scenario offers a startling but healthy wake-up call that may be especially important to political and military leaders who understand that China has become a danger but do not yet fully comprehend just how great the danger may be. The scenario is certainly disturbing, but the U.S. military posture actually could be far worse for several reasons not fully explored in the articles.
The reasons fall into three categories: insufficiently developed national resolve, less-than-fully committed political leaders, and inadequate military infrastructure near the theater of combat. As to national resolve, it probably goes without saying that the American people have not been prepared even remotely for the hard decisions and enormous national sacrifices that will become necessary should hostilities of the type described occur.
Indeed, given the divisiveness that currently bedevils the nation, the problems that will arise among our citizenry in a major war may greatly exceed the isolationism that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to deal with in the lead up to World War II. Vocal segments of the public might even see the United States not as a victim of aggression on the Asian periphery, but rather as a hegemonic aggressor with no right to interfere in China’s conflict with Taiwan. So far as I can see, nothing is being done in a timely way to address such a misguided perception.
Second, regarding political leaders, neither of the two presumptive candidates for President has demonstrated a firm and credible commitment to rebuilding the U.S. military to a level commensurate with the “War of 2026” challenge. Worse, even a credible Presidential commitment to do so would be relatively meaningless if there were insufficient time to accomplish it. And it may already be too late.
That leads to my third reason for concern: The American Sea Power Project authors have highlighted the dire problem we face of inadequate munitions and limited access to nearby U.S. (or friendly) naval bases, repair facilities, and munitions stores. How long does it take to establish the critically needed in-theater infrastructure and allies committed ahead of time? A very long time. How close are we to securing the infrastructure and core ally commitments that are needed? Not nearly close enough.
The scenario authors leave out the most important thing: What is our desired end state for China? It is not explicit, but I infer that the goals are an independent Taiwan, a China that cannot challenge U.S. economic and political supremacy, and even (perhaps) the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party–run government. Based on the articles, it seems that would be achieved by economic sanctions and attacks on Chinese infrastructure.
There are valuable lessons to be learned from 1941 regarding this war. Then, the final bargaining position of the U.S. government—really more of an ultimatum—was for Japan to withdraw its army from China, after which the United States would end economic sanctions that might bankrupt Japan. The U.S. government either did not know or did not care that such a demand had a strong possibility of forcing Japan into war to secure access to energy supplies by seizing the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies. Most in the U.S. government discounted the idea that Japan would go to war because a rational analysis indicated that a long war Japan could not win would be national suicide.
This analysis did not recognize, however, that if the Japanese government had tried to withdraw the army, the army would likely have overthrown the government. Prior to 1941, there had been several successful and unsuccessful assassination attempts on civilian government officials by military officers, with the best known the 1936 “February 26 Incident.” So, in all likelihood Japan was going to war led either by its civilian government or a military dictatorship.
Regarding nuclear-armed China, the question must be asked if its government could or would withstand an independent Taiwan and a bankrupt economy leading to potential revolution? If not, would China launch strategic nuclear weapons and against what targets? Would those targets include the U.S. homeland? As in 1941, an analysis of objective facts may not be enough to evaluate Chinese reactions. The United States would best be served by deterring war.
It seems unlikely China would invade Taiwan unless U.S. troops were stationed there. China knows it would have to destroy Taiwan to occupy it, and an invasion would result in sanctions that would bankrupt the nation.
—LCDR Tim Stipp, USNR (Ret.)
The December 2023 Proceedings should be hardbound and on the reading list of every Navy officer. It contains some of the most provocative threads of naval thinking in the past year.
What comes across in almost every article is the U.S. government’s apparent torpor regarding potential Chinese military control of the first island chain and the area around Taiwan. For example, the Bashi Channel is one of the choke points between China and the Pacific. It links substantial numbers of cables providing data and communications between Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and others to the United States. China has already demonstrated its willingness to cut undersea cables, having done so to two between Taiwan and Matsu Island a year ago.
If China pursues a course similar to Russia’s in Ukraine, the sheer numbers of casualties coupled with the rapid drain of missiles and munitions on both sides could cause U.S. support for Taiwan to wane considerably and very quickly.
Such problems cannot be corrected simply by throwing more money at them, but rather will require the allocation of specific resources being directed more effectively. Ramping up production and development of faster and longer-range missiles in quantities far exceeding current inventories will be a key component.
What is striking to me is that the American public writ large seems to have lost its guts for fighting even when U.S. forces are not involved; and, as a consequence, our men and women in uniform are not as respected as they should be. The result is many Americans seem to look on the struggles for freedom and self-determination in Ukraine and Taiwan as a sort of bothersome inconvenience. What is crazier still—and not covered by the media—is that the vast majority of the money spent on arms for Taiwan and Ukraine is spent here in the United States and not overseas. These expenditures, a very small percentage of our overall budget, are adding to the U.S. gross domestic product, employing good-paying skilled workers with jobs in areas of the country that are in desperate need of capital investment. Yet somehow this escapes discussion.
The bottom line is that money spent right now to deter Chinese aggression in the western Pacific and elsewhere is far cheaper than fighting an actual war.
I must say, Captain Clarity’s article provided clarity unlike anything I have read on the coming conflict over Taiwan. His cogent, plain-speak article revealed the bald truth regarding our relationship with Taiwan and China, as well as made commonsense observations about how our allies, neutrals, and potential noncombatant belligerents such as Russia will react to the event and U.S. involvement.
More than anything, the author forces us to ask the question: To what lengths is the United States willing to go to restore Taiwan’s independence after a Chinese invasion? No matter how quickly the U.S. military plans to respond, China will move much faster because it can choose the time and place for the invasion. As he so clearly stated, U.S. planning must therefore “recognize that restoration of Taiwanese self-determination is a far more achievable strategic objective than its preservation.” I believe Captain Clarity is correct.
That begs another, perhaps even more important, question: How much economic, social, and political pain is the United States willing to inflict—on itself, on Taiwan, on China, and on other countries that are friendly, unfriendly, or simply apathetic—to force China to restore Taiwanese autonomy?
Bravo, Captain Clarity, for bringing these questions to the table!
I am pleased Mr. Schmitt read my article and has responded. Aside from the conclusion, however, it is unclear what aspects of my argument he takes issue with. He is correct that my argument adopts a nontraditional interpretation of maneuver warfare, but I would welcome his critique on the details of the case I offered for such reinterpretation.
As for his portrayal of maneuver warfare as “based on decentralization, tempo, surprise, and attacking critical vulnerabilities,” so is much of modern war, positional, attritional, or otherwise. His claim makes as much sense as linking “combined arms” and maneuver warfare. Best practices do not a warfare philosophy make.
I agree on the links between AirLand Battle (ALB) and MCDP-1. This is the “two-domain doctrine” I referenced. But this is interesting context, not a critique. Indeed, it supports the conclusion that MCDP-1 is an artifact of its time. And Mr. Schmitt is wrong in saying I advocate for a purely scientific approach to war. My argument is rooted in philosophy, not science, specifically the ideas of philosopher of science Karl Popper. If the influence of Popper was unclear, I made explicit that I sought to join science and art in war.
Mr. Schmitt also misrepresents ALB. While developed for a specific operational challenge, it has been applied far more widely. Indeed, critiques of “multidomain operations” often accuse it of merely extending ALB. While this may be a testament to a lack of modern military theorists, it is equally a testament to how applicable ALB has been beyond the Soviet threat. Most ideas in warfare are neither entirely good nor entirely bad. Cultures may pass judgment, but ideas themselves rarely possess inherent moral value. They may be useful or not or apply in certain contexts or not.
His assertion that the Marine Corps has been a sanctuary from the thinking of Baron Antoine-Henry Jomini is unsupported. Indeed, the concepts of interior and exterior lines or lines of effort and operation are extensions of Jomini, alive and well in the Marine Corps.
Fortunately, this is not a bad thing. If there is one thing critics agree upon, it is shedding MCDP-1’s false dichotomies and straw men. We can start there. Clausewitz had useful ideas, as did Jomini. Neither had exclusive access to the truth. And despite Mr. Schmitt’s assertion that MCDP-1 derives from the unchanging nature of war—an unfalsifiable claim without clear meaning—neither does MCDP-1 have exclusive access to the truth. Like A. T. Mahan and Julian Corbett, Jomini and Clausewitz are best understood together. Neither alone is sufficient. The same is true when maneuver warfare is understood as one option among alternatives, not as dogma.
That, essentially, is my point. There are no prophets in war. This is why we should adopt the principle of falsifiability—to give theorists the tools to weed out untruths we once believed or to see through the ideas that appeal to the intellect but are unsupported by history.
—Maj Christopher Denzel, USMC
The production versions of the XQ-58 Captain Scott and Commander Lavopa propose launching from amphibious assault ships and destroyers will presumably fly one-way missions, as there would in all probability be no way to recover an MQ-58 on board a ship, and it would require refurbishment after a water landing.
This raises several questions: How many MQ-58s would each ship carry? What other weapons would they displace? Would one MQ-58 be as effective as the multiple missiles that would be displaced? How many disposable missiles could be bought for the price of one disposable MQ-58?
—Stanley Kalemaris, Golden Life Member
Captain Tyx’s Professional Note provides an excellent argument for realistic consideration of meteorological conditions to improve realism in training exercises. This applies the maxim “Train like you fight so you fight like you train” insofar as realistic meteorological conditions used during real and virtual exercises prepare all participants for likely scenarios. I hope that his suggestion is adopted.
U.S. and coalition air forces in Desert Storm demonstrated the superiority of precision-guided munitions as vividly shown on TV. Those images were incomplete, though. As the war progressed, weather conditions generated ceilings that obscured laser guidance and forced aircraft into the range of antiaircraft artillery and man-portable surface-to-air missiles. The addition of the unexpected smoke from oil well fires further complicated the visibility problem. This increased aircraft vulnerability to visually cued Iraqi defenses. Overcast ceilings likely contributed to the loss of a Harrier by a missile, and I suspect other instances as well.
Current examples of weather affecting operations in Ukraine are seen in analysis from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). As the weather deteriorated in fall 2023, drone reconnaissance effectiveness decreased, and muddy ground inhibited maneuver. The 3 December 2023 ISW analysis reports that the operational tempo decreased because of fog and rain.
Climate change is producing extreme weather events that we are all experiencing in our professional and personal lives. Lieutenant Commander Herzinger’s review of White Sun War notes climate change effects in a work of fiction. Captain Tyx suggests that injecting an exercise hurricane might not have realistic value, but combat may be forced to continue in the face of an extreme heat wave. I encourage planners to think about the logistics burden that might impose.
The water, cooling, and medical support for troops and affected civilian populations are difficult problems to speculate about, much less experience. Planning to fight in the tropics during a drought should lead planners to consider the effects of wildfire modeling. Civilian agencies are incorporating climate change–induced effects in their planning for this. In some future battle, an emergency troop withdrawal may be required not because of enemy superiority, but rather because a rapidly advancing wildfire suddenly rises up after long-range fires were received from an enemy in retreat.
—Robert T. Zavala Jr.
Captain Stevens’ article struck a chord with me. I was privileged to have the opportunity to offer some thoughts on his theme at the 2021 Tailhook Symposium. As I was creating the cover art for that year’s program, the phrase “Thank you for your service” kept going through my head. I have heard it said many times, and, I believe, with genuine sincerity. But something seemed to be missing.
To me, “service” describes past events over which an individual may have had no direct control. Sometimes, service events might later be labeled by historians and analysts as heroic or game-changing; medals might be involved. Far more often, however, service is likely to be a repetitious succession of uninspiring or unnoticed events that will never make it onto the media’s radar. For the most part, individual service events and accomplishments were the luck of the draw. Major Michael Hanson highlights this reality in his January 2023 article.
But when service members pin on Wings of Gold as naval aviators—or sign up for any other military obligation—they make a commitment to an unknown future. A commitment that no matter what circumstances—epic or prosaic—they encounter as part of their service careers, they will prosecute each with a determined focus and the utmost professionalism. To me, this commitment is what is truly important and needs to be recognized.
So, my message to former, retired, and active-duty service members is “Thank you . . . for your commitment!”