“The Cycles of Navy Strategy”

Donald Abenheim1)


The long era of expanding U.S. defense-budgets from 2002 until 2010 unfolded with much debate over the best ways to employ Naval forces in the Global War on Terror and in the effort to create stability in Iraq. As the United States emerged from the decade-long campaign to eliminate Osama bin Laden and to crush al-Qaeda, however, Navy leaders discovered that the international and domestic political landscape had changed. Demobilization and austerity, highlighted by sequestration of the Department of Defense budget, now loomed large in American domestic politics. On the international scene, new events -- the endurance of international terrorism, the 2011 “pivot to Asia,” and the revival of war in Europe in 2014 – and new technological challenges – cyberwarfare, robotics, and a host of more exotic “disruptive technologies” -- posed a challenge to Naval concepts and operations.  Navy leaders agreed that the time was ripe for a renewed emphasis on Naval Strategy.  The result was the recent release of the long-awaited revision of the Navy’s Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, a timely and much-needed response to the challenges facing Naval commanders as they contemplate the changing strategic environment.

The creation of this new Naval Strategy was no small accomplishment.  Today, Navy strategists find themselves in a rather difficult situation when it comes to devising and explaining the way Naval forces contribute to national defense. During the last quarter century, the Office of Secretary of Defense transferred the making of maritime strategy from the OPNAV staff to the Combatant Commanders who became the center of gravity of U.S. strategy and operations. In the twenty-five years since the eclipse of the Reagan-Lehman Maritime Strategy, the Navy’s strategists found themselves left to defend budget priorities and construction programs. Nevertheless, if the Combatant Commanders are focused on current operations, OPNAV must not only identify emerging trends and threats, but also find ways to change the course of the Navy to meet the challenges and opportunities of the decades ahead. Naval strategy, as undertaken by the OPNAV staff, is all about the future, and the future Navy.  Although Navy strategy must be seen to meet the demands of the day, it will only come to complete fruition when the future force envisioned by today’s Naval strategists meets some future test in combat.

Newcomers to the process of developing Navy strategy might not realize that Navy strategy runs in cycles characterized by stasis, crisis and reform. Indeed, during pivotal moments in the past, the development of naval and maritime strategy has erupted in inter-service and intra-service fights over the budget and preferred weapons, as well as preferred concepts of combined and joint strategy. These debates usually end when some international crisis tips the balance in one direction or another, as decisions are made to reorient the Navy to meet new operational challenges or international threats.  Indeed, these cycles are more or less as old as the Navy itself. The question that comes to mind, however, is exactly where are we when it comes to this pattern of stasis, crisis and reform?


Four Cycles

Although dividing the history of U.S. Navy strategy into periods is a somewhat arbitrary enterprise, four broad periods of stasis, crisis and reform can be identified that highlight a pattern in the development of Naval strategy and the institution’s response to technological, operational or political change.   The first cycle occurred between 1812 and 1880, a period that often appears as a dark age of following the growth of the Navy in the Civil War and the rise to prominence of Alfred Thayer Mahan and his works.   The second cycle, from 1919 until 1941, begins with the ambiguous role of the new U.S. battle fleet in the First World War through the disarmament and naval limits of the interwar period and ends with the beginning of mobilization that transpired before Pearl Harbor.  The third cycle, from 1946 until about 1960, is characterized by inter-service fights over the role of nuclear weapons in national defense and the part the Navy would play in deterring nuclear war.  The fourth cycle, which transpired between 1970 until 1980, illustrates the crisis in Naval affairs that the led to the  Reagan-Lehman 600-ship Navy program that re-coupled the Navy to the general effort to respond to Soviet global ambitions.


The Dark Age, 1865–1880

The phenomenon of cyclic stagnation and rebirth in the formation of naval and maritime strategy is evident in a period that receives little attention from contemporary strategists. Between the War of 1812 and the beginning of the Civil War, the U.S. Navy reflected the Constitutional fundamentals that called for the maintenance of a small navy to protect American interests against modest threats on the world stage, and an expansible army based on forts and a militia, all of which matched the demands of the Monroe Doctrine. In this remote era, there existed little capacity within the Navy for the making of strategy. Instead, issues related to the role and size of the U.S. Navy were resolved through discussions between the Secretary of the Navy and Congress. Given that there was neither the political will nor the economic and industrial means to match the navies of the leading European powers of the antebellum era, there was not much interest in doing more than funding a handful of naval vessels to show the U.S. flag along the world’s trade routes.  The changes that occurred, for instance, the launch of the Yangtze patrol in China in 1854, were not accompanied by a fundamental reassessment of naval strategy.

When war came in the spring of 1861, the United States improvised an emergency fleet suited to win protracted war of attrition on a scale unseen in U.S. history. This feat was made easier by the fact that the Confederacy lacked both a fleet and the industrial base to create a significant naval force. The Confederates cobbled together a fleet  commerce raiding cruisers and posed a threat briefly to the commercial North East, complicating the Atlantic trade. The Confederate’s strategy also entangled Britain and France in the naval war between the North and South, which raised the prospect of drawing the European great powers into the Civil War. This seemed to be a real possibility at the time as the guerre de course under the Stars and Bars burdened trans-Atlantic relations, especially when U.S. Navy ships fought Confederate vessels in European waters.  The use of commerce raiding by the Confederacy made for good headlines, ruined the U.S. merchant fleet and scared the citizens of the Northeast as rumors of Confederate threats circulated among ports. But this effort had no enduring strategic effect. The Union response to this Confederate threat – a blockade strategy – was highly effective and served as the maritime counterpart to the scorched earth campaigns waged against the South by U.S. Grant and Forrest Sherman.

The exigencies of the Civil War transformed the U.S. Navy into a modern fighting force.  While the Navy met its need for skilled personnel by pressing merchant sailors into service, newfound roles for steam and iron, and the growing striking power of artillery allowed the Union to catch up and to even briefly to surpass European navies at the height of the Civil War. Advances in technology, industry and the emerging need for individuals capable of manning and maintaining this new naval hardware heralded the impact of the industrial revolution on the U.S. Navy. The new technologies incorporated into warships created a need for shipyards and arsenals along with an industrial policy similar to the ones adopted by contemporary European naval powers. These irresistible forces created a demand for naval strategy, a demand that outpaced the capabilities of the Navy as an institution.

The Civil War effort could not be sustained in peacetime as national priorities returned to westward expansion, the imperatives of isolation, and doubts about the wisdom of sustaining a peacetime military establishment beyond the size or capability of pre-Civil War levels. By the 1880s, the U.S. Navy declined from its wartime strength into obsolescence, strategic misdirection, and civil military turmoil. The popular mood at the end of the Civil War was one of exhaustion and vanished appetite for martial glory. The nation had no overseas colonies that demanded defense. Americans did not want to be drawn into Europe’s squabbles and feuds. Americans understood that they would never launch a war to conquer another nation so they was no appetite to construct a global Navy; after all, the European state system would prevent the rise of a universal power that could threaten the new world. All these arguments militated against a large navy, which had never existed in peacetime.

The Navy reverted to its peacetime habits.  It mothballed or scrapped most of its ships. Focus returned to maintaining overseas squadron stations as the best way to protect U.S. trade and the national interests. Contemplation of strategy was largely confined to the prospect of commerce raiding against a possible European enemy. The rise of steam, however, made even this limited strategic option problematic because of the inherent high cost of forward deploying the steamships of the day.  Indeed, discussions of Naval strategy only seemed to exacerbate tensions between those who advanced the cause of machine navies and those who resisted this idea not only out of thrift, but because they abhorred the role of machines and the way new technologies demanded the “integration” of people from a variety of social classes into the Navy. Although American interests were gradually becoming more global in nature, debates about Naval strategy were inward looking, focusing on incorporating new technologies and changing personnel requirements.

American politics in aftermath of the civil war also saw the triumph of political and economic interests dead set against free trade, which included opposition to a navy large enough to augment and protect such trade. The struggle by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles to reorient the navy on a sensible basis was suffocated in the political backlash against international engagement and trade that accompanied reconstruction. Many believe that no political or strategic need existed for a stronger, larger, and offensively oriented navy  because the world’s oceans formed the best common defense. The life of the navy was further burdened by claims of graft, corruption and special interests, made worse by the crisis of the U.S. Grant administration. Members of Congress spent their time investigating corruption in the Navy Department rather than providing the political consensus and means to advance anything resembling sea power, an idea that had yet to be born. All of this was topped off in the course of the 1870s by international economic depression.   The Navy teetered on the brink of collapse.

The nadir of the 1870s, was punctuated by the rise of American sea power, even before Alfred Thayer Mahan gave a name to it with his interpretation of war at sea written in the year 1890. The advent of the age of imperialism in the international system, which more or less coincided with the closing of the American frontier and with it the consolidation of continental expansion in the wake of the Civil War, made Americans think in great-power terms, in which navies figured as means of national power. The great powers increasingly used navies to subjugate areas of Africa and Asia as part of a general struggle for power on a global scale. The internecine squabbling in the U.S. Congress that had precluded reform in the world depression graduated to consensus about the need to repair the neglected Navy. Foreign incidents in which American citizens and commerce were at risk in Latin America and in the Pacific gave energy to those in Congress who had long sought naval reform.

Strategic Muddle, 1919–1941

The forces of decline and rebirth in U.S. Naval strategy also reveal themselves in the interwar period. This period has been described by some observers as a golden age of technological innovation, others describe as time of great frustration for naval strategists. The fate of the battle fleet cannot be simply reduced to a story about the foresight and wisdom of Plan Orange that emerged between 1902 and 1941 or a story about how Franklin Delano Roosevelt willfully moved the fleet in 1940 from California to Hawaii without adequate preparation for combat. The story of strategy during this period is less about carefully executed war games, and more about the character of the international system in the first decades of the 20th century, domestic antiwar sentiment and parsimony and the disjointed nature of army and navy strategy in the Pacific.

The record of these issues is more politically complicated and organizationally ambiguous than widely celebrated legend and enduring Mahanian dogma would have it. For most of this period, the Atlantic world and its international political economy held the attention of American diplomacy and policy, which with the onset of the world depression became isolationist and politically accepting of anti-war principles. Imperial Japan only emerged as a focus of diplomacy and statecraft in the late 1930s, when U.S. interest in an anti-Japanese strategy accorded with domestic and international reality. In the years between 1919 and 1935, Imperial Japan took a backseat in U.S. statecraft behind concerns about the fate of Britain or Germany.  There was little domestic political agreement over an appropriate response to the growing Japanese threat in the Pacific during most of the interwar period.

U.S. naval strategy in the Pacific in the interwar period also suffered from a series of policy and strategy mismatches created by several developments in international and domestic politics. These impasses and dead ends included the Republican retreat from world power to normalcy in the 1920s, the U.S. Navy’s unrealistic and unsustainable fantasies about overtaking the Royal Navy in the number of capital ships deployed following the extension of the 1916 ship-building program and the evaporation of international cooperation in the years after 1919.

All of this was made worse by a weak League of Nations that emerged in the wake of the war, especially following the U.S. Senate’s decision to abandon the League. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 as well as the enduring problems of the international system (the lack of common cause by the victors and the emergence of national rivalries, especially between United States and Japan over the fate of China) created significant strategic problems for U.S. Navy.  Naval strategists had a difficult time discerning whether to prepare for naval rivalry with Britain and its Japanese ally or to instead focus on Japan as the enemy. U.S. maritime strategy eventually identified Japan as a likely foe by the end of the 1920s.  Nevertheless, this center of effort followed neither national policy, which was pacifist, abolitionist and commercially oriented, nor a domestic political consensus, which was seized of normalcy and a horror of war.  This strategic choice was not supported by a budget that would make this preferred Naval strategy completely viable against a rising Japan.

Although the story of interwar naval strategy is often depicted as the fight over technology between battleship conservatives and aircraft revolutionaries, the anti-war stance of the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations, largely made these debates academic. The domestic politics of normalcy, austerity and pacifism, which became more acute once FDR became president, made the Navy an afterthought in domestic politics.   and isolationism became the order of the day in the face of chaos in Asia and Europe. FDR’s decision at the end of the 1930s to undertake a massive build up the U.S. Navy in the face of Japanese aggression hardly ended inter service rivalry about a blue ocean Pacific strategy until months before Pearl Harbor when the Plan Dog and “Germany first” decision was made by the British and American governments. The lessons of Pearl Harbor also imposed a burden on the making of strategy at sea, which became manifest in the 24 months after the unconditional Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945.

Strategic Muddle, 1946–1960

The Second World War brought the U.S. Navy to the pinnacle of sea power and world prominence, but such good fortune could not endure; the pattern of demobilization swiftly reappeared amid postwar strategic confusion. With the victories in Europe and in Japan, national and Congressional focus returned to the lessons of Pearl Harbor as well as to the dictates of economy and peace, which, in turn, portended problems for the making of maritime strategy and the role of the Navy in the atomic age. The way World War II unfolded in the Atlantic and the Pacific had seemed to give validation to Mahan and his acolytes . But post-war strategy was up for grabs.  Wartime inter-service bickering over combined and joint operations drove deep divisions between the Army and the Navy.  Debate over an emerging need for an “air atomic strategy” revived the strategic and operational outlook of Giullo Douhet and Billy Mitchell.   Dogmatic recitation of early–20th-century navalism, based on the assumption that the United States had to maintain a ”second-to-none fleet,” was greeted with skepticism by a postwar Congress. The search for an affordable peacetime military posture made the lessons of Pearl Harbor more onerous for the Navy in the Presidential and Congressional priorities of 1946.

The Bikini Atoll atomic bomb test explosions of 1946 seemed to validate the position of air power champions, who had prophesied the obsolescence of capital ships. The concentration of naval forces in a future war, as, say, in the English Channel at Normandy or at the Ulithi Atoll anchorage in the Western Pacific during World War II, would become unfeasible under atomic assault from the air.

To make matters worse, at the height of war as they cleared the world’s oceans of all adversaries, Navy leaders apparently failed to consider the looming postwar future. The Navy’s sister services were less circumspect. Army revolutionaries had begun to prepare to carry out Mitchell’s idea of an independent Air Force and a single defense department, ending the bifurcation of the U.S. defense establishment between a Department of War and a Department of the Navy. This bifurcation was portrayed by Air Force advocates as a key contributor to the catastrophe at Pearl Harbor. With the aid of Walt Disney and the newsreels, the Air Force had also fashioned a “strategic communication campaign” vastly superior to the newsreels that highlighted the Navy’s contribution in defeating Germany and Japan. In their view, the “new” Air Force would be the key to America’s future defense, not the Navy.

The domestic political austerity and renewed inter-service rivalry that occurred during the battle over service unification brought new organizational miseries to the Navy, whose very existence was called into question by advocates of air power, by Congressional cost-cutters, and by those in the Army incensed over joint operational problems with the USMC in the Pacific campaigns. The nadir of maritime strategy and the role of the U.S. Navy in national defense arrived with the Congressional unification fight that occurred between 1946 and 1949, an episode that was portrayed by a new generation of young critics, fresh from the war, as righting of the wrongs of Pearl Harbor. They also made much of the “guilt of the Admirals,” as it was called, who had ignored the role of aviation before the late 1930s and who had neglected the nation’s defenses because of Mahanian dogma that no longer fit in the air atomic age.

The leadership of the Navy in 1946—especially leading figures in naval aviation—feared that the new Air Force would sweep up its aircraft and that the Army would absorb the Marine Corps. This fear led to greater partisanship and civil-military insurgency among senior naval aviators in the midst of the legislative reforms of service unification and the creation of the Department of Defense. This battle over the future of ships and planes blinded these men to the realities and requirements of strategy in the pivotal period between the end of the World War II and the Korean War.

Now almost forgotten in the 21st century, this epoch of dramatic change and institutional adjustment thrust Navy Secretary James Forrestal to prominence. As a kind of reincarnation of Mahan, Forrestal became the leading naval strategist of his time, supported in turn by such men as Forrest Sherman, who, together with Lauris Norstad, had been crucial in the creation of the Defense Department and a comprehensive approach to strategy, which quickly fell apart in the face of budgetary restrictions that worsened service parochialism. Forrestal had to fight to preserve the independence of the Navy while forcing its adjustment to the nuclear age.

In the opening encounters of the Cold War in southern Europe and the Persian Gulf of 1946, the Navy played a vital role by showing the flag at hot spots under Soviet pressure. Fateful for the formation of strategy, however, was the brutal demobilization and shrinkage of the fleet. Forrestal’s anti-Soviet attitude and his sponsorship of George Kennan’s containment strategy little compensated for the political primacy of the long-range bomber, the guided missile, and the atomic weapon. The shift from total war to peace and retrenchment amid service unification led to Forrestal’s suicide in 1949, a grim prelude to the inter-service fight over the strategic bomber and decisions about which service would deliver the growing U.S. nuclear arsenal to targets in the Soviet Union.

Civil-military turmoil and technological upheaval led the advocates of capital ships and aircraft to attempt a coup de main against the idea of air power in the atomic age and its intercontinental long-range bombers. The aviator admirals sortied in 1949 with the supercarrier, the USS America, as the centerpiece of a civil-military revolt against the Harry S. Truman administration and its drive for service unification. This public relations and legislative gambit against Curtis LeMay and the new Strategic Air Command formed the main focus of Navy strategy until the outbreak of the Korean War.

The decisive encounter in the battle over service unification became known as the Revolt of the Admirals, a berserk approach to the making of naval strategy. The Navy lost this initial legislative fight about strategy, ships and weapons. Fortune quickly ameliorated this defeat, however, when the Korean War made possible the increase in air, land and sea forces as set forth in March 1950 by NSC 68.  The Korean War forced Truman to overlook the services’ incapacity to formulate a coherent strategy and to launch a massive post-World War II military buildup.

The advent of the policy of “massive retaliation” in the years after 1953 gave the U.S. Navy an important opening to compete again for the much prized nuclear delivery mission. The slow development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles helped Arleigh Burke revive naval strategy. His strategic realism as well as his bureaucratic acumen remain exemplary. The Korean War had shown the renewed importance of maritime operations at Inchon, naval strike aviation and sea control. The large aircraft carrier rose from the grave, the size of nuclear weapons shrank, and new jet aircraft emerged to carry such ordnance from the Navy’s flight decks. The requirement to wage conventional war against the North Koreans and the Chinese banished the nightmare image of tiny U.S. capital ships under nuclear attack, and gave the Navy a new lease on life. Massive retaliation emerged as a way to deter the Soviets without massive investments in Army manpower.

Massive retaliation contained its own contradictions, which immediately became apparent in the later course of the 1950s in crises in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. Such conflicts seemed to call for the limited use of armed forces for the missions of forward defense and crisis management, which allowed Army and Navy strategists to propose alternate strategic concepts at the expense of the Air Force.  The new proposals -- Maxwell Taylor’s flexible response and Arleigh Burke’s limited deterrence --- were also more in accord with domestic political realities and Soviet threats. These strategic ideas took hold as the United States began to introduce its first intercontinental ballistic missiles and as Hyman Rickover perfected nuclear propulsion in submarines and as centralized operational planning for the use of nuclear weapons in crisis and war—the SIOP – became a reality.

These steps enabled the Navy to break the Air Force’s decade long nuclear monopoly of the nuclear delivery mission by giving the fleet a weapon that could compete with the strategic bomber: the George Washington class submarine. In the words of Burke, the new submarine would enable Americans to live as human beings—not as a nation submerged in bomb shelters. Burke fought off the attempt by the Air force to seize operational control of the Polaris submarine under the guise of a Single Integrated Operational Plan, although he was unable to prevent Air Force personnel from participating in the selection of the targets of submarine launched ballistic missiles. Burke’s effort helped the Navy solidify its role as part of the “triad” of forces given the nuclear deterrence mission, an outcome that appeared highly in doubt at the outbreak of the Korean War.  These ballistic missile submarines gave life to the idea of limited deterrence as an option for nuclear strategy and reinforced the role of the Navy in U.S. security policy at the start of the 1960s.

The Hollow Force, 1970-1980

The fourth epoch of decline and rebirth—marked by the so-called hollow force, of the post-Vietnam and pre-Reagan Navy—is perhaps most easily recognizable from the perspective of 2015.  As America’s involvement in Southeast Asia began to wind down, Navy leaders confronted a new political and strategic setting: the Cold War now witnessed a new Soviet global assertiveness; new problems emerged in the making of Service strategy following the Vietnam debacle; and the economic concerns loomed large in domestic politics. These issues helped to detach maritime strategy from national policy and strategy, while, organizational disputes within the Navy slowed the adjustment to post-Vietnam strategic realities.

The sad story of the nearly derelict Navy that preceded the Reagan defense buildup and the Lehman era of reform comprised the funk of the post-Vietnam retrenchment, the stagflation wrought of the 1973 and 1979 oil crises amid war and revolution in the Middle East, too few ships, and a return to strategic aimlessness in the Navy’s evolution. What limited national attention focused on defense concerned itself with the strategic nuclear balance, or “extending deterrence” to the forward defense of Western Europe. Navy leaders faced hard choices because of the rapid decline in the defense budget as U.S involvement in Vietnam ended.

Soviet ships, meanwhile, grew in number and undertook a more aggressive operational posture each year. The hammer and sickle streamed above sleek new Soviet vessels in such places of the former Pax Britannica as Port Said, the coast of East Africa, and the Indian Ocean. Admiral Gorshkov’s rising challenge to U.S. sea power began well before the 1970s, but the rise of Soviet might afloat became inescapable following Soviet naval movements during the October 1973 Middle East War. By contrast, the ships and planes of the U.S. fleet, which shrank in number due to the budgetary demands of the Vietnam war, grew ever more aged in the course of this unhappy decade.  This decline was in fact exacerbated by the budget rigors of the middle- and late 1970s and stagflation. The cost of modern capital ships and aircraft soared at the very moment when the Soviets seemed ready to engage in a major naval arms race.

The long episode of stalemated fighting in Southeast Asia and associated frustrations within American society also reverberated on board with racial conflict and a collapse of command and obedience. The same problems of command and discipline that wracked the Army in the matter of race relations and good order generally hardly vanished once the war ended in 1973. The reforms enacted by Elmo Zumwalt in the 1970s remedied many of these problems, but the newest version of the interwar “gun club”—the attack carrier admirals in the school of Arthur Radford—loathed Zumwalt and decried most of the national strategic decisions that unfolded during the rest of the decade to the harm of a capital ship Navy with an offensive strategy.

This friction became highly public in the Pentagon and the halls of Congress in the late 1970s.  As a result, the Navy’s needs were discounted by those who wrote the budget in an epoch of austerity and stagnation. This internal discord about naval strategy contrasted to the more or less unified purpose found in the post-Vietnam U.S. Army, which embraced the all-volunteer force and modernization of the force to fight and win a Soviet onslaught in Central Europe. The Army benefited from the decision to modernize conventional forces in NATO amid the strategic assumption that the nuclear threshold had to be raised. The belief that any all-out war in the 1970s would be short and sharp, also worked against they Navy.  Few believed that a confrontation along the Central Front would stalemate in a long war of attrition that would give the Navy an opportunity to alter the course of a land war through and extended campaign at sea. To many, the Navy would be relegated to convoy duty in a future war with the Soviets. 

By the time this lost decade slid to its low points in1979, which were punctuated by the Iranian hostage, the Desert One disaster and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, Navy leaders had made the grave error of viewing maritime strategy as nothing more than a chart of red and blue ship diagrams arrayed against one other on the seven seas. That is, strategy was nothing more than force structure and weapons, which, in this case, the authors of naval strategy assumed would be governed by the vagaries of   civil-military relations.

The year 1979 witnessed an acute disassociation of means and ends and of the aims of the naval leadership from national policy.  Preservation of the carrier construction program became the be all and end all of Navy strategy. The Navy was becoming disconnected  from national policy by pushing what appeared to many to be unaffordable weapons, while turning a blind eye to the lack of interest in the body politic that in earlier times had taken a keen interest in sea power and supported the idea and the strategy in American democracy.


It would take a new President and a new Secretary of the Navy to re-integrate Navy strategy into national strategy.  Nevertheless, as this brief survey demonstrates, the fortunes of the Navy, to say nothing of Naval strategy, are cyclical.  In a sense, changes in the diplomatic, political, economic, and even technological setting outpace the ability of the Navy to adjust to new strategic landscapes.  The real irony is that just as the Navy often reaches some pinnacle of operational or technological supremacy, something changes in the external environment to render this supremacy superfluous, Naval officers are then forced to scramble to adjust to new strategic realities, leaving behind preferred strategies and force structures constructed at enormous human effort and great cost.  When it comes to Navies, planning cycles are indeed long; changes of course rarely occur before crises force a fundamental reassessment of organizational preferences.

There are successes in each of these cycles.  These successes were created by visionaries who championed new technologies and operations at the expense of Navy organizational culture and preferences.  The fact that the Navy already possessed the aircraft carrier, the successor to the capital ship of the day, before the battleship was rendered virtually obsolete is an observation that should give contemporary strategists pause.  Contemporary strategists would also do well to consider that an inability to link force structure to emerging political, economic and military developments was at the heart of all of the crises surveyed in this paper.  Admittedly, changes in force structure followed each of these crises, but changes in strategic outlook were necessary officers could find away to link Navy strategy to national preferences and objectives.  The trick for strategists today would be to anticipate our changing strategic landscape so that Naval strategy, and a more slowly changing Navy force structure, can keep pace with emerging threats and national strategy.


1) The opinions expressed here are those of the author alone.