Naval Warfare and the Operational Art

Naval warfare exhibits all of the characteristics of operational art no less than warfare on land. Concepts of maneuver, mass, firepower and even flank attacks and the indirect approach can be seen in naval combat. The unique feature of naval warfare is the interaction of land, sea and air units to conduct strategic plans and engage in battle.
Just as land warfare had its strategic thinkers and prophets such as Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and Jomini, sea power had its own unique thinkers in Alfred Thayer Mahan and Julian Corbett. Both of these great naval strategists, who published their works at the beginning of the great steel and steam naval era, expanded on traditional writers like Clausewitz to divine the unique characteristics and contributions of naval forces to both strategic success and operational thinking.

The inherent ability of ships to quickly transit great distances, combined with the reach of aircraft carrier strikes and the development of amphibious assault doctrine to assault fortified beaches make naval power even more critical to modern warfare. The U.S. Navy’s recent Naval Operations Concept document shows the clear lineage of both Mahan and Corbett on the role of naval operations in the 21st Century. Mahan and Corbett created their concepts in an era of empires and far-flung coaling stations to support massive battle fleets. The Navy’s modern operational concept has evolved to current geo-political realities, highlighting how naval forces are now the most versatile operational force-able to operate over a vast territory without worrying about global bases or access to overseas ports or infrastructure. Naval forces have also become the first responders to deal with crises and contingencies, remaining away from territorial waters while retaining the capability to project power ashore by either air or missile strike or helicopter and amphibious assault.
Naval power has proven its utility in both peacetime and war, offering unique operational characteristics and capabilities to further a country’s military and diplomatic strategic objectives.