American Naval Power and the Prevention of Terror


Under the new “Joint Force” concept of operations model, the U.S. Navy has taken on added prevention responsibilities that include strategic and operational responses to asymmetric warfare. It is becoming evident that this Joint Force concept does not require an unduly large number of operational units in order to effectively support the nation’s terrorism prevention mission. The lessons learned from the Navy’s adoption of this concept, and its continuing evolution, are of considerable value to homeland security practitioners who are responsible for preventing terrorist activity within their respective jurisdictions. Communities should seek to develop surge capacity in their strategic and tactical theaters, conducting exercises to diagnose and strengthen this critical response component. Local organizations should consider three mission areas of prevention – interdiction, response, and redundancy – and develop qualifiers that can be applied to evaluating these areas. Furthermore, the Navy’s emphasis on interagency cooperation and mission interoperability offers an example that can be followed by local homeland security jurisdictions.

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Suggested Citation

Longshore, David. “American Naval Power and the Prevention of Terror.” Homeland Security Affairs 1, Article 6 (June 2005).


In the years since the terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001, the United States Navy has embarked on a comprehensive and innovative course of strategic and operational evolution designed to enhance the nation’s ability to prevent acts of terrorism. In terms of its range and capabilities, the U.S. Navy has historically been one of the most versatile of the armed forces and its continuing transition, from its traditional blue-water mission of strategic deterrence to the new ‘Joint Force’ concept of operations model dictated by the realities of asymmetric warfare, signifies the strategic validity of asymmetric response in terrorism prevention systems. 1 Despite budgetary constraints, the downsizing of ship numbers, rapidly evolving technology, and the persistence of outmoded strategic and public perceptions as to the role of sea power in the 21st century, the U.S. Navy has successfully adopted an overarching mission of transformation — generally known as Sea Power 21 — that has consequently placed it in a much stronger position to operationally conduct terrorism prevention operations under the nation’s homeland defense and security mandates. 2

The Navy’s dual-pronged approach to this transformational program has resulted in some controversial side effects (such as a reduction of the number of commissioned vessels necessary to achieve strategic and operational requirements) and a realignment of existing task force units. Not surprisingly, some of these shifts in doctrinal and operational direction have sparked concern and even criticism on the part of military experts and naval strategists. 3

But as is becoming evident, the Navy’s new Joint Force concept does not require an unduly large number of operational units in order to effectively support the nation’s terrorism prevention mission. The key elements in terrorism prevention have been incorporated into the design and implementation of the Joint Force concept, and a much greater emphasis on mission configurability has resulted. This, in turn, has yielded enhancements in efficiency and effectiveness, and the cost savings that go along with them. 4 In 2005, the Navy possessed at least 25% more operational availability than it had in previous years, principally due to the provisions of the Fleet Response Plan (FRP). 5

In addition to the practical value of analyzing the Navy’s transformational techniques, the course that the Navy has charted in order to increase its preventative effect on terrorism illustrates that large institutions with many sea-miles of collective experience and tradition to their credit can successfully undertake reform and refinement programs without undue damage to operational morale and effectiveness. Indeed, the Navy’s most effective response to the Joint Force mandate has been one of integration, expanding its former role of strategic deterrence to include a form of tactical deterrence, while never entirely abandoning the doctrinal teachings and strategic experiences that have shaped its history and given it cohesiveness.

Because the Navy’s added prevention responsibilities now include strategic and operational responses to asymmetric warfare the lessons learned from its continuing evolution (as well as the systems, organizations and strategies employed in achieving that transformation) are perhaps of considerable value to similar homeland defense and security efforts in the nation’s civilian public safety communities, many of which operate in paramilitary mission areas. Some of these lessons — such as doing more with less — are fairly generic occurrences in all jurisdictions, while others (like the Sea Shield mission area within the Sea Power 21 concept) are an adaptation of the terrorism prevention paradigm that is unique to the Navy’s capabilities but which can be, in part, adapted for local terrorism prevention operations.

The Prevention of Terrorism

Before analyzing the Navy’s current role in terrorism prevention, a common definition of terrorism prevention as it exists in asymmetric strategic and tactical thought should be established. 6 Probably the most applicable analysis of why prevention doctrine is of such strategic value in countering asymmetric threats is found in the work of Martha Crenshaw, who posits that ‘The decline of terrorism appears to be related to the interplay of three factors: the government response to terrorism (which is not restricted to preemption or deterrence), the strategic choices of the terrorist organization, and its organizational resources.’ 7 Crenshaw’s strategic interplay indicates that prevention strategies are applicable to all three factors that may deter or dissuade terrorist activity, and that this versatility of approach results in a unified tactical result. In Crenshaw’s second and third principles, the strategic use of prevention results in tactical deployments that force the terrorist organization to undergo innovation; it is during and after these challenging periods of innovation that organizations are most likely to either abandon terrorist tactics, or dissolve. 8

Based upon the larger strategic concerns of terrorism prevention, there are three specific mission areas within the homeland security matrix that address terrorism prevention’s tactical objectives: Interdiction, Response and Redundancy. These mission areas have been extrapolated from several homeland security documents, primarily the doctrinal National Strategy for Homeland Security and the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism.

Interdiction can be defined as the timely application of response and support assets to the interruption of a terrorist organization’s objectives. Equally well known as the ‘preemption concept,’ and variously defined by the studies of Corrado and Davis (1986), Cillufo and Tomarchio (1998), and Rose (2000), interdiction has grown in definition and objective to include active response mechanisms, such as information gathering and intelligence analysis, and the deployment of specially trained and equipped counterterrorism teams. 9 The National Strategy for Homeland Security stipulates the expansion of the interdiction discipline through the recognition that ‘Actionable intelligence is essential for preventing acts of terrorism. The timely and thorough analysis and dissemination of information about terrorists and their current and potential activities allow the government to take immediate and near-term action to disrupt and prevent terrorist acts‘’ 10 According to the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, the, ‘prevention of catastrophic terrorism is dependent upon interdiction of people and materials. ’ 11 Interdiction can occur at any point in the planning and execution phases, and is preferably conducted during the early stages of a terrorist operation, before any opportunity for expansion or implementation is realized.

Response is the ability of a jurisdiction to deploy personnel and other resources to the amelioration of terrorist events. While many terrorism scholars tend to categorize response as a part of interdiction, (it is through response that terrorist acts are interdicted or thwarted) our definition of response focuses on peri- and post-event factors. In other words, the speed, efficiency, and efficacy by which response assets in a particular jurisdiction respond to unfolding acts of terrorism essentially determines how successful that event is in achieving its destructive objectives. If, for instance, a jurisdiction were understaffed or under-equipped, it would be that much easier for terrorist organizations to exploit those weaknesses — and they can only be considered gaps — in conducting acts of terrorism. In this way, rapid and effective response is a form of deterrence in that terrorist organizations are less likely to attack a particular locale or jurisdiction if it is generally known (or determined by terrorist surveillance operations) that a rapid response will reduce the death toll, or quickly douse the resultant fires, or repair critical infrastructure nodes. The National Strategy for Combating Terrorism recognizes the importance of response in the prevention of terrorism by observing that, ‘solid plans, preparations, and immediate response remain key to mitigating acts of terrorism.’ 12

The third and final pillar of prevention theory — redundancy — is also the newest. Redundancy refers to that capability, whether on the federal, state, or local level, that deters or prevents attacks through the need to debilitate multiple locations or assets in order to achieve the terrorists’ objectives. The National Strategy for Homeland Security contains extensive provisions for improving redundancy through the increased protection of critical infrastructure facilities. ‘Protecting America’s critical infrastructure and key assets will not only make us more secure from terrorist attack, but will also reduce our vulnerability to natural disasters, organized crime, and computer hackers.’ 13 This versatility of approach is, in itself, a redundancy, and potently illustrates how vital a critical node the redundancy component is to the prevention strategy.

The Navy as a Strategic Deterrent

The U.S. Navy’s mandate to fully participate in the prevention of terrorist attacks on the American homeland necessitated a rethinking and redesign of many of its principal strategies and tactics. Before September 11, 2001, the U.S. Navy essentially had one primary mission: strategic deterrence. Strategic deterrence theory perhaps found its most significant — and successful — role in the nuclear deterrence strategies of the Cold War (1946-1986). 14 As manifested by the Cold War example, where the United States and the former Soviet Union stridently sought the numerical and tactical advantages inherent in the number of nuclear warheads and their respective destructive capabilities, the strategy of deterrence was most effectively realized from a position of size or strength. Studies conducted by Geis and Huston (1983) on the role of bystanders as defined by the Good Samaritan laws in California indicate that the physical size of participants plays a significant role in the successful outcome of such activity. ‘The important variable‘was the size and strength of the bystander, vis a vis the victim.’ 15

During the 1980’s, it was critical to the Reagan Administration’s interpretation of the strategic deterrence policy that the United States deploy a large navy, including a potent, submarine-borne ballistic missile capability. From a conventional viewpoint, the ‘600-ship Navy’ served to counter the Soviet Navy’s overly-ambitious strategy of possessing enough warships to seize control of the world’s oceanic trade routes and thereby deny the use of the seas to the West. Moreover, in a symbolic sense, a navy with a seemingly endless supply of ships was a swing element in the strategic deterrence concept, as it indicated to the USSR that the U.S. possessed the technology, industrial skill, and financial resources to address wide-scale conventional as well as nuclear threats. It was, perhaps, this versatility of strategy and tactic that ultimately gave the deterrence policies of the Reagan and first Bush Administrations’ their winning edge.

But since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the need for the U.S. Navy to maintain a large, expensive and exclusive strategic deterrent has clearly diminished. It is an irony of victory; by so ably winning the Cold War and removing for the time being any challenge to the preeminence of the U.S. in global military and economic affairs, the U.S. Navy essentially decommissioned not only many of its ships, but the very strategies that had defined its operational objectives, and even its public perception, since the opening days of the Cold War.

The Navy as Tactical Deterrent

In devising its strategy for the new century, the Navy realized that it would prove of little benefit to the nation’s overall security to completely abandon its strategic deterrence concepts — any more than it is necessary for local police departments to give up traditional crime fighting duties in order to effectively prevent acts of terrorism. In implementing the provisions of Sea Power 21, the U.S. Navy has repeatedly signaled its understanding that while the strategies and tactics of naval warfare may change over time, the primacy of effective, mission-specific sea power remains a constant. This strategic realization has permitted the Navy to adopt the Joint Force concept and evolve in operational dexterity by expanding its historical emphasis on strategic deterrence to include what can be considered a new interpretation of tactical deterrence. 16

The Navy is certainly familiar with asymmetric strategies and tactics. In 2000, one of its vessels, the USS Cole (DDG 67), was the target of an asymmetric attack that left 17 service personnel dead and an important combatant unit out of commission for several years. In January 2001, the Navy released its investigation of the Cole attack, which noted that ‘the commanding officer of Cole did not have the specific intelligence, focused training, appropriate equipment or on-scene security support to effectively prevent or deter such a determined, preplanned assault on his ship.’ 17 Although the bulk of the Navy’s terrorism prevention efforts came into existence after September 11, 2001, the bombing of the USS Cole spearheaded a new awareness of asymmetric threats within the Navy hierarchy. As early as February 2001, the Task Force on Antiterrorism and Force Protection, conducted under the aegis of the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV), established the preliminary framework by which improved force protection could be achieved. This program included a changing of the mindset that informed force protection precepts, as well as a number of asymmetrical tactic changes, including improved pre-deployment training, enhanced threat and situational awareness, and in-theater support for U.S. naval vessels entering new ports. 18

To correct the vulnerabilities in organization, capabilities and tactics evidenced by the attack on the USS Cole, the Navy’s Sea Power 21 doctrine and its resulting Concept of Operations (CONOPS) framework have integrated the three mission areas of terrorism prevention — Interdiction, Response and Redundancy — into its respective mission areas. As history has shown, and Sea Power 21recognizes, naval supremacy is not principally achieved through superior numbers but through superior tactics, logistics, and discipline. In this way, Sea Power 21 provides for the preventative deployment of the very same asymmetric strategies and tactics that would be used by the nation’s opponents.

It first accomplishes this by dividing its warfare capabilities into four primary tactical qualifiers, namely: speed, agility, precision and persistence. These qualifiers (which are essentially evaluative in nature and fairly self-explanatory) are then applied to three mission areas known as ‘Sea Strike,’ ‘Sea Shield,’ and ‘Sea Basing.’

The first of these mission areas, ‘Sea Strike,’ indicates that the Navy’s time-honored role as the nation’s first-line means of projecting strategic deterrence has not been omitted from the Sea Power 21 doctrine. As its moniker indicates, Sea Strike provides for the projection of strategic deterrence and its influence on the prevention of terrorism through deterrence aimed at nation-states that serve as terrorist havens. ‘Sea Strike,’ Sea Power 21 reads, ‘is the ability to project precise and persistent offensive power from the sea.’ This ‘precise and persistent offensive power’ has clearly been of invaluable use in the vast air campaigns over Afghanistan and Iraq, which were launched from U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. By assisting in the removal of governments and regimes that harbor and provide succor to terrorist organizations, the U.S. Navy’s ‘Sea Strike’ mission is providing a powerful strategic and tactical deterrent for the prevention of future terrorist attacks.

The second component in the Sea Power 21doctrine, dubbed ‘Sea Shield,’ is perhaps where the Navy’s new mission most closely adheres to the prevention of terrorist and other asymmetric attacks as interpreted by civilian homeland security operations. ‘Sea Shield integrates forward-deployed naval forces with the other military services, civil authorities, and intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. ‘Homeland defense will be accomplished by a national effort‘. We will identify, track, and intercept dangers long before they threaten our homeland.’ The Sea Shield component also contains provisions for the implementation of the Fleet Response Plan (FRP) which stipulates operational support for the nation’s allies in detecting, disrupting and denying terrorist organizations — and by extension, any asymmetric opponent — the use of the world’s oceans.

Homeland Security’s emphasis on developing and implementing enhanced intelligence capabilities, which are critical to the efficacy of the Interdiction mission through improved situational awareness, have been included within the Sea Shield rubric. ‘Maritime patrol aircraft, ships, submarines, and unmanned vehicles will provide comprehensive situational awareness to cue intercepting units.’ As advocated by Sea Shield, situational awareness extends to the use of sophisticated equipment to nullify the danger of secondary or tertiary devices being deployed as part of a terrorist or asymmetric operation. ‘When sent to investigate a suspicious vessel, boarding parties will use advanced equipment to detect the presence of contraband by visual, chemical, and radiological methods.’ 19

The third of Sea Power 21’s mission areas, Sea Basing, ‘enhances operational independence and support for the joint force. ’ Primarily logistical in design and purpose, Sea Basing further addresses asymmetric possibilities as they pertain to communications, computer security, and infrastructure protection. Since the Navy’s mission is growing more asymmetric in nature, it is not unrealistic or impractical to apply asymmetric doctrine to its tactics and strategies. One of the most effective ways in which the Navy can counter asymmetric threats is therefore through redundancy, and the Sea Basing concept provides for surge capacity in the event major offensive or defensive activities are required. 20 This surge capacity includes providing a sufficient degree of logistical support to forward-operating nodes, including up to ten aircraft carrier task forces simultaneously. 21 The Sea Basing concept further provides for the repositioning of existing Navy assets, such as establishing a homeport for one of the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) class aircraft carriers in Hawaii or the American protectorate of Guam. Some naval officials have advocated that the permanent deployment of a carrier task force in Guam will serve as a deterrent to terrorist activity. ‘If you were a week away or two weeks away, that provides an opportunity to do something,’ Admiral Arthur J. Johnson, commander of US Navy forces in the Marianas Islands, said of terrorist tactics. ‘Just by having the capability in the neighborhood, it forces people, transnational terrorists, to redo their calculus.’ 22

The Navy’s assumption of terrorism prevention duties under the Joint Forces precept has led to tangible improvements in interagency coordination and mission interoperability. In the first six months of 2005 alone, the Navy conducted half a dozen deployments in support of the global alliance against terrorism, including participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Response Force Maritime Group and Operation Active Endeavor, NATO’s overall response to asymmetric warfare and terrorist activity. The Navy conducts similar interoperability exercises in the Pacific Ocean, most recently with Singapore as part of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) program. On June 6, 2005, while conducting Maritime Security Operations (MSO) in the Indian Ocean, the USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) thwarted an attack on a motor vessel by a band of pirates operating in Somalia’s littoral environment. MSO ‘sets the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment and complements the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. MSO denies international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.’ 23 As evidence of the effectiveness of the MSO mission area, Navy officials point to an April 2004 incident where an explosives-laden dhow, en route to the oil terminals at Khawr Al Amaya and Al Basrah, was intercepted by MSO units. Although the dhow exploded with the loss of three U.S. service personnel, its ultimate objective was denied, thereby preventing a much greater loss of life and the asymmetric destruction of a vital energy infrastructure node. 24 Clearly, mission interoperability, along with a strong naval presence, does serve to prevent or limit acts of asymmetric warfare and their immediate effects.

New Capabilities

Changes in doctrine, strategy and tactics are only part of the U.S. Navy’s assumption of the Joint Forces paradigm. New mission areas require new capabilities, some of which are organizational in direction, and some that are more resource and equipment-oriented. The U.S. Navy presently possesses the most sophisticated warships in existence. The Sea Power 21doctrine stipulates that it do so and the continued achievement of its Joint Force mission requires nothing less than full compliance. It has been the Navy’s new mission of preventing and responding to asymmetric threats that has driven the development and construction of some of its most innovative combat units. While these new vessels do possess capabilities that will allow them to fully participate in the Navy’s traditional strategic deterrence mission, their greatest success may be realized in an asymmetrical operational theater.

In a keel-laying ceremony held in early June of 2005 at a Wisconsin shipyard, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Vernon Clark, joined the widow of an Army sergeant killed in action in Iraq and posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, in sponsoring the newest of the U.S. Navy’s ships, the USS Freedom (LCS 1).

With its sleek appearance and broad operational parameters, the USS Freedom represents an entirely new type of vessel for the U.S. Navy – the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). Measuring some 378 feet in length and displacing approximately 2,000 tons, the Freedom and its sister units are designed to operate at high speeds and with maximum maneuverability in brown-water or shallow littoral (coastal) environments. The first new class of naval vessel to be introduced in over a decade, the LCS is intended to tactically counter a flotilla of asymmetric threats, including mines, conventional-powered submarines, and swift surface combatant vessels. Each LCS will operate at speeds in excess of 40 knots, and can operate in drafts of less than 20 feet. While the first generation LCS program calls for four units to be placed into service between 2007 and 2009, an additional nine, second flight units are due to be commissioned between 2010-2012. Eventually, the U.S. Navy intends to operate up to between 60 and 100 LCSs as part of its ongoing transformation into a 21st century fighting force.

But in a very real sense, the true significance of the USS Freedom lies in its name, in what it represents to the evolving strategies of sea power in the first half of the 21st century. 25 Because of its unique and diverse array of capabilities, the LCS introduces new resources that will better enable the U.S. Navy to counter the tactics associated with asymmetric warfare, as well as the more traditional forms of combat at sea. And with this enhanced ability comes the U.S. Navy’s freedom from many of the outmoded doctrinal tenants that have long typified our nation’s strategic and tactical relationship with sea power.

In addition to the LCS and a new series of Mark V special operations craft, the Navy is constructing a new classof surface combatant called the DD(X). Viewed as a potential successor to the relatively-new Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) destroyer class (to which the USS Gonzalez and the USS Cole belong), and bristling with technology that is adaptable to a future fleet of cruisers, the DD(X) will (when commissioned between 2009 and 2011) bring new levels of asymmetric versatility to the defense of the world’s oceans. Fitted with an integrated all electric propulsion system, dual band radar, a peripheral vertical launch system, and a hull design that enhances speed and mobility, the DD(X) and its mission reconfigurable siblings will greatly improve the Navy’s ability to conduct blue and brown-water Sea Shield operations aimed at interdicting and preventing asymmetric attacks on the American homeland. Additionally, it will bring greater precision to land warfare and the special operations that frequently accompany terrorism interdiction and response campaigns. 26 Illustrations of the proposed DD(X) class show a vision of the nation’s seagoing future that looks not unlike a submarine operating on the surface. It is perhaps largely symbolic in import, but it is an interesting feature of the DD(X) class that well over half of the vessel will exist below the waterline, hampering its participation in some littoral theaters, but providing for unprecedented protection while engaged in blue-water and anti-ship missile operations. In what may prove an asymmetric defense capability of the first order, the DD(X) design permits the vessel to use its environment for protection and added tactical stealth. Because these qualities are powerful tools in any Interdiction or Response operations, the DD(X) as conceptualized will serve as an effective terrorism prevention safeguard. 27

There have also been several calls for a renewal of the Navy’s conventional-powered submarine building program, with the intent that these vessels would prove an effective counter to asymmetric attacks launched from quiet-operating submarines. So far the Navy has resisted this, most probably because anti-submarine warfare operations can be more effectively addressed by the LCS and DD(X) concepts. 28


The U.S. Navy’s experience in adopting its most recent program of transformation contains a number of lessons for homeland security practitioners who are responsible for preventing terrorist activity within their respective jurisdictions.

The development of new mission areas within the Navy has indicated the importance of obtaining and deploying equipment that can in fact support these mission areas. While it is true that the U.S. Navy possesses considerable resources, these are proportionally no greater in relation to its evolving mission than they would be for state and local jurisdictions with more finite terrorism prevention responsibilities. Where the Navy has been successful in this regard is in avoiding the tendency to allow strategies, rather than more specific tactical objectives, to determine operational and equipment needs.

The Navy’s experience has also shown that communities should seek to develop surge capacity in their strategic and tactical theaters, and conduct exercises to diagnose and strengthen this critical response component. The Navy’s Fleet Response Plan (FRP) is a sound conceptual model that state and local jurisdictions can adopt for their own homeland security surge requirements. As the Navy has evidenced, surge capacity is an important tactic in asymmetric operations, be they part of a larger military action or taken in response to an event on the state and local levels. Its ability to double capacity for short periods of time (in what the FRP refers to as the ‘emergency surge’ response level) establishes a benchmark standard which organizations with similar homeland security and public safety responsibilities can augment. 29

When developing strategic and tactical programs, local organizations should consider the three mission areas of prevention, and develop evaluative qualifiers that can be applied to the Interdiction, Response, and Redundancy mission areas. Sea Power 21 stipulates four operational qualifiers – speed, agility, precision and persistence — while other applicable qualifiers might include timing, diligence, organization, and diversity. 30 Like the Navy, jurisdictions and organizations that adopt evaluative criteria or standards will find it easier to define and refine their terrorism prevention strategies and tactics.

The Navy’s emphasis on interagency cooperation and mission interoperability is another example that can be followed by local homeland security jurisdictions. In addition to drills and exercises designed to familiarize players with equipment capabilities and operating protocols, the Navy’s Maritime Security Operations (MSO) program enhances the nation’s asymmetric response capabilities by forging a working coalition between the Navy and its maritime partners. According to Vice Admiral David Nichols, who coordinates U.S. maritime security operations in the international waters of the Persian Gulf-Indian Ocean theater, ‘Pressurizing the maritime environment describes an effect‘which deters the terrorists from using the maritime environment. ‘We do that via integrated operations amongst a coalition force of several nations across the entire region inside and outside the Gulf.’ 31

Adapting this kind of interoperability at the local level should strengthen efforts to prevent terrorism. First, a unified effort signals deterrence, and makes it much harder for asymmetric operations to be planned and implemented. Second, the interoperability model requires that personnel and their core capabilities from several different departments, and even nations, become actual stakeholders in the strategic and tactical objectives that constitute interoperability. Among other benefits, the practice raises morale which, in increasing warrior proficiency through the Navy’s mission area qualifiers of speed, agility, precision and persistence, enhances the Navy’s ability to deter and prevent acts of terrorism. At a time when communities around the U.S. are implementing the National Incident Management System (NIMS), the Navy’s system for achieving interagency operability while maintaining unit independence and readiness stands as a workable model and reference point.

As it has been for the Homeland Defense and Security community, the Navy’s doctrinal and operational shift toward preventing acts of asymmetric warfare has been set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing global power dynamic. In addition to the transnational asymmetric threats posed by terrorist organizations, China, in particular, figures prominently in many of the Navy’s scenarios, and contemporary observers of sea power have been quick to note this strategic sea change. 32 While Sea Power 21’s concept of operations emphasizes the importance of an asymmetric response to asymmetric threats, the Navy’s traditional role of strategic deterrence against nation-states that seek to employ asymmetric strategies and tactics has not been ignored.

Indeed, the Navy’s adoption of the Joint Forces doctrine has in part been aided by China’s strategic and tactical reliance on the tenants of asymmetric warfare to determine its shipbuilding priorities. China’s recent escalation of its naval capabilities program has largely been inspired by its determination to deter moves by the Taiwanese to seek independence and to tactically counter any military intervention on the part of Taiwan or the United States. When one considers the type of vessels the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is presently placing into service, it would appear that a guerre de course — a war of trade – is not its primary concern at this time. It is building these specialized vessels with specific operational parameters in mind, namely that of deterring U.S. military support for Taiwan. 33 The United States is not alone in making preparations to counter China’s burgeoning emphasis on asymmetric sea combat. Taiwan itself has undertaken a rapid reconfiguration of its military infrastructure, including the acquisition of destroyers, diesel-electric attack submarines, and aircraft, which will reach its apogee within the next decade. Known as the ‘offshore defense strategy,’ Taiwan’s intention is to develop an effective military deterrent to a Chinese invasion, with particular emphasis on deterring activity in the Taiwan straits. 34

The U.S. Navy must continue to maintain a strident level of strategic deterrence in order to maintain the present balance of power in eastern Asia. At first glance this might seem more of a tactical imperative, except that in doing so, the Navy is in fact acting in the role of a strategic deterrent to a potential rise in domestic terrorism. A survey of terrorist-related events indicates that as empires and nations undergo periods of economic contraction, incidences of terrorist activity tend to increase. There are several reasons for this relationship, among them the perception that economic decline translates into an inability to adequately project the military and economic power necessary to deter or prevent acts of terrorism. In the years following the First World War, Great Britain saw both its economic and military primacy over the world’s affairs markedly reduced. Once this perception became widespread, numerous instances of terrorist activity — particularly on the part of Irish nationalists — occurred. A similar series of events has been witnessed in several of the republics that formerly comprised the Soviet Union. Once the cohesiveness of the Soviet empire was lost, acts of asymmetric warfare occurred in several republics.

At the present time, with the U.S. maintaining its economic and military primacy, acts of terrorism against its domestic and international interests do occur, but not with the frequency that historical data indicates could be possible were the nation to economically and militarily weaken. For nations and societies, the future is often a pathway that winds through darkness and uncertainty, and the American eagle is not without potential challengers to its economic and military supremacy — including one increasingly acquisitive dragon. By maintaining strategic deterrence through tactical deterrence, the U.S. Navy continues to play a pivotal role in preventing acts of terrorism by protecting the framework by which U.S. economic and military dominance can be sustained.

While at the present time the U.S. Navy does have many operational missions, ranging from strategic deterrence and amphibious operations to logistical support and Homeland Security duties, its most important mission continues to be that of strategic and tactical evolution. As the Chief of Naval Operations wrote in his 2005 Guidance, ‘Transforming ourselves and our great institution for the dangerous decades ahead is our imperative.’ 35

David Longshore served as Director of Special Programs at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management (NYCOEM) between 2000 and 2004. He was among the first responders to the World Trade Center disaster on September 11, 2001, and played an integral role in coordinating the City’s response to numerous emergencies, including the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, the 2001 anthrax attack, and the 2003 Northeastern Blackout. The author of several books, plays, and short stories, including A Deadly Sign (1993), Crooked Titians (1995), the Encyclopedia of Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones (1998; Second Edition, 2000), and Hello, Lyndon (2002), Mr. Longshore holds a B.A. in History and English, summa cum laude, from Amherst College, and an M.A. in Security Studies (Homeland Security and Defense) from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

  1. Vernon Clark, ‘Sea Power 21: Projecting Decisive Joint Capabilities,’ Proceedings, October 2002. Clark writes: ‘we will continue the evolution of U.S. naval power from the blue-water, war-at-sea focus of the ‘Maritime Strategy’ (1986), through the littoral emphasis of ‘From the Sea’ (1992) and ‘Forward from the Sea (1994),’ to a broadened strategy in which naval forces are fully integrated into global joint operations against regional and transnational dangers.’
  2. For an interesting analysis of earlier transformation programs in the U.S. Navy, see Norman Friedman. ‘Transformation — A Century Ago,’ Naval History, U.S. Naval Institute, 19, No. 2 (April 2005): 32-37.
  3. Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 (New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2004), 35. Mahan warns us of the unreliability of large fleets as a guarantee of ultimate victory when he writes, ‘When the [Napoleonic] empire fell, France had one hundred and three ships-of-the-line and fifty-five frigates.’ See also, Robert D. Kaplan, ‘How We Would Fight China,’ The Atlantic Monthly, June 2005, 49. Kaplan writes: ‘Our present Navy is mainly a ‘blue-water’ force, responsible for the peacetime management of vast oceanic spaces and one that enables much of the world’s free trade.’ See also, Tim Weiner, ‘Arms Fiascoes Lead to Alarm Inside Pentagon,’ The New York Times, June 8, 2005: A1. Weiner’s article highlights many of the difficulties the armed forces, including the Navy, have experienced in procuring reliable weapons systems. The article also points out the spiraling cost of weapons systems, a refrain that has been echoed by the Navy’s leadership for some time. In a March, 2005 interview with Naval Forces Magazine, Adm. Clark indicated: ‘What really concerns me is the ever-increasing cost of the assets that the nation needs for its Navy.’
  4. Vernon Clark, ‘Building a 21st-Century Navy,’ Interview with Gordon I. Peterson, Naval Forces Magazine, 1 (2005). Clark remarks: ‘One of my officers declassified a memorandum about the Navy’s acquisition plan for 1967. Allowing for inflation, you get a $129 billion budget that year compared to our budget for fiscal year 2005 which is $119 billion. The 1967 budget bought 620 airplanes and 47 ships. Fiscal year 05 is the best year since I have been here, and we funded eight ships and 113 airplanes.’
  5. Ibid.
  6. See Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998) for an analysis of the character and behavior of strategy and tactic as applied to counterterrorism thought.
  7. Martha Crenshaw, ‘How Terrorism Declines.’ Terrorism Research and Public Policy, 80
  8. Martha Crenshaw, ‘Innovation: Decision Points in the Trajectory of Terrorism,’ The Conference on ‘Trajectories of Terrorist Violence in Europe,’ March 9-11, 2001, Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University, 3.
  9. Frank J. Cillufo and Thomas Tomarchio, ‘Responding to new terrorist threats,’ Orbis, 42, No. 3 (1998): 440; Nikolas Rose, ‘The biology of culpability: pathological identity and crime control in a biological culture,’ Theoretical Criminology, 4, No. 1 (2000): 24; Michael Corrado and Michael Davis, ‘Special section on punishment, quarantine, and preventive detention,’ Criminal Justice Ethics, 15, No. 2 (1986): 12.
  10. Office of Homeland Security, National Strategy for Homeland Security (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2002), 16.
  11. U.S. Government, National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (February 2003), 28.
  12. Ibid
  13. Office of Homeland Security, National Strategy for Homeland Security, ix.
  14. Paul K. Davis and Brian Michael Jenkins, Deterrence & Influence in Counterterrorism (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2002), xiii. Davis and Jenkins write: ‘Finally, to sustain its [terrorism deterrence] effort for the long term, the United States needs to have and disseminate a persuasive, high-minded strategy, analogous to the Cold War strategy that served the nation so well.’
  15. Anne L. Schneider, ‘Coproduction of Public and Private Safety: An Analysis of Bystander Intervention, Protective Neighboring,’ and Personal Protection,’ The Western Political Quarterly, 40, No. 4 (December 1987): 617.
  16. Clark, ‘Sea Power 21.’ Clark writes: ‘The importance of Sea Shield to our nation has never been greater, as the proliferation of advanced weapons and asymmetric attack techniques places an increasing premium on the value of deterrence and battlespace dominance.’
  17. U.S. Department of Defense. ‘Navy Announces Results of its Investigation on USS Cole.’ News Release No. 031-01, January 19, 2001. The release attributes the quote to Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Clark.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Vernon Clark. ‘Sea Power 21.’
  20. Ibid. Mahan, too, equated naval supremacy with the ability to develop surge capacity: ‘More important even than the size of the navy is the question of its institutions, favoring a healthful spirit and activity, and providing for rapid development in time of war’
  21. Clark, ‘Building a 21st-Century Navy.’ In 2004, the Navy conducted Summer Pulse ’04, an exercise which used seven carrier task forces to successfully test the Sea Basing concept.
  22. Associated Press, ‘Pentagon seeks new home for warship,’, June 8, 2005.
  23. U.S. Navy, ‘USS Gonzalez Wards Off Attack on Civilian Mariners in Indian Ocean,’ USS Gonzalez Public Affairs, Story Number NNS050608-02, June 8, 2005.
  24. U.S. Navy, ‘Maritime Security Operations: A Critical Component for Security and Stability,’ U.S. Fifth Fleet Public Affairs, Story Number NNS050608-04, June 8, 2005.
  25. U.S. Navy, ‘Keel Laid for First Littoral Combat Ship, USS Freedom,’ Naval Sea Systems Command Public Affairs, Story Number: NNS050603-18, June 3, 2005. According to a US Navy press release, the vessel’s new name was chosen to acknowledge, ‘the enduring foundation of the nation and honor[s] American communities from coast to coast which bear the name Freedom.’
  26. Clark, ‘Building a 21st-Century Navy.’
  27. An illustration of the DD(X) prototype can be found at the US Navy webpage: In the DD(X)’s design it is interesting to note the return of the ‘ram bow,’ a feature of most major warships following the 1866 Battle of Lissa between the Austrians and the Italians, and in which several ships were sunk by ramming. The concept of using the entire ship as a weapon consequently became a tactical grail until well after WWI. In the case of the DD(X), studies have shown that vessels with longer waterlines have lower friction coefficients and can therefore operate at faster speeds.
  28. Robert D. Kaplan, ‘How We Would Fight China,’ Atlantic Monthly, June 2005, 49.
  29. Clark, ‘Building a 21st-Century Navy.’
  30. David Longshore, ‘The Principles of Prevention and the Development of the Prevention Triangle Model for the Evaluation of Terrorism Prevention,’ (master’s thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, March 2005).
  31. U.S. Navy, ‘Maritime Security Operations: A Critical Component for Security and Stability,’ U.S. Fifth Fleet Public Affairs, Story Number NNS050608-04, June 8, 2005.
  32. Kaplan, ‘How We Would Fight China,’ Kaplan assessment is grim but realistic: ‘No matter how successfully our military adapts to the rise of China, it is clear that our current dominance in the Pacific will not last.’
  33. Richard Halloran, ‘China Rapidly Expands Military Capability,’ Honolulu Advertiser, February 6, 2005. Halloran writes: ‘China, which has become the world’s third largest shipbuilder, has produced about 100 amphibious ships, and four tank landing ships are under construction. That appears to have obliterated a U.S. Navy joke that, because the Chinese lacked amphibious ships, the only way they could invade Taiwan was by swimming.’ See also, Edward Cody, ‘With Taiwan In Mind, China Focuses Military Expansion on Navy,’ Washington Post, March 20, 2004.
  34., ‘Taiwan Shifting Defense Priorities Toward Navy,’ August 19, 2002.
  35. A copy of the CNO’s Guidance for 2005 can be found at

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