The CSS Blog Network

Russia: A Land Power Hungry for the Sea

Courtesy of MASS MoCA/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 19 April 2017.

Trying to understand the military behavior of nations has been a hobby of Western academics, beginning with the great geopoliticians of former centuries, such as Nicholas Spykman, Sir Halford Mackinder, and Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan. Simply, the argument is that geography demanded that insular and coastal nations such as England, Japan, and the Netherlands develop strong navies to support their national economic and political interests. Conversely, Germany, the Turkish Republic, and the Roman Empire were required to use their formidable land armies to defend and expand their territories. Russia stands out as a one-off. Situated squarely on the borders of Eastern Europe and central Asia, she endured numerous land assaults, and, accordingly built large defensive and offensive land armies. However, in fits and starts, she has also assembled naval forces equal to or greater than most of her presumptive adversaries. Why does Russia, a traditional land power, engage in such counterintuitive and unique behavior? Do recent international events shed light on Russia’s future naval activities?

When Tsar Peter the Great embarked on building a navy 330 years ago, he did so to defend the homeland from Swedish and Turkish enemies, north and south, while at the same time buying Russia a seat at the “great power” diplomatic table. Serendipitously, his navy did enable him to expand Russian boundaries and give him access to the world’s oceans. A second noteworthy Russian foray into the sea was at the height of the Cold War when Soviet Adm. Gorshkov planned and built a naval force that rivalled American supremacy at sea. His submarines alone (385) outnumbered those of the NATO Alliance and they regularly patrolled off the American Atlantic and Pacific coasts until the fall of the Soviet Union. On the surface of the oceans, it was commonplace for U.S. warships visiting exotic ports around the world to be joined by their Soviet counterparts throughout the Cold War.

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The Threat is Here, It’s Just Distributed Unevenly: A2/AD and the Aircraft Carrier

USS George Washington is underway in the Pacific Ocean

Courtesy of Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 28 July 2016

Editor’s Note: You can read a longer account of Steve Blank’s visit to the U.S.S. Carl Vinson at his website later this week.

Sitting backwards in a plane with no windows, strapped in a 4-point harness, head encased in a helmet, eyes covered by goggles, your brain can’t process the acceleration. As the C-2 A Greyhound is hurled off an aircraft carrier into the air via a catapult, your body is thrown forward in the air, until a few seconds later, hundreds of feet above the carrier now at 150 miles per hour you yell, “Holy sh*t!” And no one can hear you through the noise, helmet, and ear protectors.

I just spent two days a hundred miles off the coast of Mexico as a guest of the U.S.S. Carl Vinson with Pete Newell (my fellow instructor in the Hacking for Defense class) and 11 other Stanford faculty from CISAC and the Hoover Institution. It’s hard to spend time on a carrier and not be impressed with the Navy and the dedicated people who man the carrier and serve their country.

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The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Self-Delusions of American Naval Power

Aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 7 fly over USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. Image: Official U.S. Navy Page/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 1 October, 2015.

Hans Christian Andersen crafted the parable of the emperor’s new clothes to teach children how pomposity and collective denial can produce stupidity and how childlike honesty can cut through it all. The tale centers on a credulous emperor and a circle of courtiers and subjects who were willing to play along with the delusion – a situation now mirrored not only in the Pentagon, but also in the White House and Congress. And the U.S. Navy is caught in in this web of pomposity and collective denial on two fronts. The first involves the Navy’s Fleet Response Program (FRP) and the second is the inconsistency between the Unified Command Plan (UCP) and the Navy’s operating environment – the world’s oceans. These issues might not sound sexy, but they are crucial to understand. Both are related and the net result is an over-extended Navy, bereft of a command-and-control apparatus congruent with its operating environment. » More