A blue-water navy is a maritime force capable of operating across the deep waters of open oceans. A term also used in the United Kingdom to describe such a force is a navy possessing maritime expeditionary capabilities. While definitions of what actually constitutes such a force vary, there is a requirement for the ability to exercise sea control at wide ranges.
The Defense Security Service of the United States has defined the blue-water navy as, "a maritime force capable of sustained operation across the deep waters of open oceans. A blue-water navy allows a country to project power far from the home country and usually includes one or more aircraft carriers. Smaller blue-water navies are able to dispatch fewer vessels abroad for shorter periods of time."
- 1 Attributes of a blue-water navy
- 2 Countries described as having blue-water navies
- 3 Countries described as having potential blue-water navies
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Blue-water capability refers to an oceangoing fleet able to operate on the high seas far from its nation's homeports. Some operate throughout the world. It implies force protection from sub-surface, surface and airborne threats and a sustainable logistic reach, allowing a persistent presence at range. A hallmark of a true blue-water navy is the ability to conduct replenishment at sea (RAS), and the commissioning of underway replenishment ships is a strong sign of a navy's blue-water ambitions. Despite the above however, there is no agreed definition of the term.
In public discourse, blue-water capability is identified with the operation of iconic capital ships such as battleships and aircraft carriers. For instance, during the debate in the 1970s whether Australia should replace HMAS Melbourne, a former Chief of Navy claimed that if Australia did not replace her last aircraft carrier, she "would no longer have a blue-water navy". In the end Australia did not buy a new carrier, but former Parliamentary defence advisor Gary Brown could still claim in 2004 that her navy remained "an effective blue-water force". The Soviet Navy towards the end of the Cold War is another example of a blue-water navy that had minimal carrier aviation, relying instead on submarines, missile-carrying surface ships, and long-range bombers based on land.
While traditionally a distinction was made between the coastal brown-water navy (operating in the littoral zone to 200 nautical miles/370 kilometres) and a seagoing blue-water navy, the new term green-water navy has been created by the U.S. Navy. Green-water navy appears to be equivalent to a brown-water navy in older sources. The term brown-water navy appears to have been altered in U.S. Navy parlance to a riverine force.
The term blue-water navy should not be confused with the capability of an individual ship. For example, vessels of a green-water navy can often operate in blue water for short periods of time. A number of nations have extensive maritime assets but lack the capability to maintain the required sustainable logistic reach. Some of them join coalition task groups in blue-water deployments such as anti-piracy patrols off Somalia.
While a blue-water navy can project sea control power into another nation's littoral, it remains susceptible to threats from less capable forces (asymmetric warfare). Maintenance and logistics at range have high costs, and there might be a saturation advantage over a deployed force through the use of land-based air or surface-to-surface missile assets, diesel-electric submarines, or asymmetric tactics such as Fast Inshore Attack Craft. An example of this vulnerability was the October 2000 USS Cole bombing in Aden.
In his 2012 publication, "Sea Power and the Asia-Pacific", Assistant Professor of political science Patrick C. Bratton outlined what he termed as a "concise criteria" with regards to the classification of brown, green and blue-water navies. He writes:
...a brown-water navy standing for a navy capable of defending its coastal zones, a green-water navy for a navy competent to operate in regional sea and finally [a] blue-water navy described as a navy with capability to operate across the deep waters.
Bratton goes on to say that even with such a definition and understanding of naval hierarchy, it is still "ambiguous". For example, while France and the United States may be considered blue-water navies, he states that the "operational capability and geographic reach of both navies are definitely different." 
Historically, and to present day, blue-water navies have tended to establish overseas bases to extend the reach of supply lines, provide repair facilities and enhance the "effective striking power" of a fleet beyond the capabilities provided by the nations homeports. Generally, these overseas bases are located within areas where potential conflicts or threats to the nations interests may arise. For example, since World War II the Royal Navy and later the United States Navy have continued to base forces in Bahrain for operations in the Persian Gulf.
The military importance and value of overseas basing is primarily dependent on geographical location. A base located at choke points in narrow or enclosed seas can be of high value, especially if positioned near, or within striking distance of an enemy's sea lines of communications. However advanced operating bases (or forward operating bases) can be equally as valuable. Naval Station Pearl Harbor acts as a "gateway" for the US Navy to "operate forward" in the Pacific Ocean.
These are navies that have successfully used the capabilities of their blue-water navies to exercise control on the high seas and from there have projected power into other nations' littoral waters.
The French Navy operates a single nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (the Charles de Gaulle (R91)) which forms the centrepiece of the Navy's principal expeditionary task group (known as the Aeronaval Group). In addition to this, the navy maintains a secondary Amphibious Group (known as Le Groupe Amphibie) based around the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship's. Both these formations are part of the Force d'action navale (or Naval Action Force). The 'Forces sous-marines' operates four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and six nuclear-powered fleet submarines. France retains a network of overseas naval facilities around the world; from Fort de France in the Caribbean, to Le Port, Réunion in the Indian Ocean, Papeete in the Pacific and in several other parts of the world too, including the Gulf, South Atlantic and the Western Pacific.
The Navy's operational duties include the protection of French interests abroad and the security of the nations many overseas departments and territories, as such the Navy undertakes a number of standing commitments worldwide.
The Royal Navy supports a number of standing commitments worldwide on a continuous basis and maintains an expeditionary task force known as the Response Force Task Group (RFTG). The Royal Navy Submarine Service operates four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and six nuclear-powered fleet submarines which operate globally. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary maintains a flotilla of 17 ships[d] which support Royal Navy operations at range and augment its amphibious capabilities. The United Kingdom maintains four overseas naval facilities, including a refuelling station at Sembawang, Singapore in the Far East.
The U.S. Naval War College identifies the Royal Navy's tasks as fighting wars, conducting distant expeditions, maintaining good order at sea and preventing and deterring conflict. As such, the Navy views the retention of high-end disciplines such as anti-air and anti-submarine warfare as strategically important. The Royal Navy has shown many examples of its expeditionary capabilities, such as the 1982 Falklands War, the 1990-91 Gulf War, Sierra Leone, the War in Afghanistan, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and more recently during the 2011 military intervention in Libya.
The United States Navy maintains nine Carrier Strike Groups (centered on the Nimitz-class carriers), of which six are deployed or ready for deployment within 30 days, and two ready for deployment within 90 days under the Fleet Response Plan (FRP). The USN also maintains a continuous deployment of eleven Expeditionary Strike Groups that embark a Marine Expeditionary Unit with an Aviation Combat Element of Landing Helicopter Docks and Landing Helicopter Assault. The US Military Sealift Command is the largest of its kind in the world and is responsible for delivering military transport and ship replenishment around the globe.
The US Navy has seen several examples of blue-water combat capabilities from the Korean War to Operation Enduring Freedom and has ability to project force onto the littoral regions of the world, engage in forward areas during peacetime, and rapidly respond to regional crises.
Few countries today maintain blue-water navies, but many are developing green-water navies into blue-water navies. The following are countries which have stated their intentions towards developing blue-water capabilities.
In 2008 the BBC reported that a senior Chinese defence official (Major General Qian Lihua) confirmed China was to operate a small fleet of aircraft carriers. However, it was said to be for the purpose of regional defence as opposed to "global reach". A report in late 2012 by the United States has outlined China's recent naval modernization efforts and intentions of developing blue-water capabilities. The report suggested that while China is developing a blue-water navy, it will be more regional in nature rather than global. Chinese strategists call this “a regional [blue-water] defensive and offensive navy." PLA officials have outlined plans to operate in the First and Second island chains.
The Indian Navy has publicly stated its intentions to develop blue-water capabilities under the 'Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan'. High levels of economic growth in the last decade has enabled an increase in defence expenditure, particularly to the navy, which is presently undergoing rapid expansion and modernisation to fulfill the political goal of "projecting power in India’s area of strategic interest" (the Indian Ocean Region). By the year 2020, the navy plans to operate three carrier battle groups, while also acquiring long-range naval aviation and a strategic submarine fleet.
In recent years the Indian Navy has increased its presence in the Persian Gulf, and from the Horn of Africa to the Strait of Malacca. It has conducted anti-piracy operations since 2008 and partnership building with other Indian ocean navies. It also conducts routine two to three month-long deployments in the South and East China seas.
In 1981, Prime Minister Zenkō Suzuki put forward a new doctrine requiring the JMSDF to expand its operations by 1,000 miles for defense of SLOCs. To respond to this requirement, the JMSDF deployed approximately 100 P-3Cs and four flotillas apart from five frigate divisions. These flotillas presently consist of destroyers and Hyūga-class helicopter destroyers with anti-submarine helicopters. In the 2000s, the ocean-going capability of the JMSDF was still insufficient outside of the Pacific Ocean, and further expansion was started. Japanese deployments include participation in the Combined Task Force 150, and an additional task force in the Indian Ocean from 2009 to combat piracy in Somalia. The first postwar overseas military base of Japan was established next to Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport.
The Cold War era Soviet Navy maintained naval forces able to rival those of the United States Navy, however, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 the fleet experienced a severe decline due to lack of funding. In 2012, President Vladimir Putin announced an increase in spending to the Russian Navy as part of a long-term intention to recreate a blue-water navy. Analysts have also mentioned that as opposed to the focus on submarine operations in the North Atlantic during the Cold War era, Russia's strategic emphasis has shifted towards the Pacific regions where a rising China and the United States 'Asia-Pacific Pivot' are potential threats. In early 2013 the navy held its largest military exercises since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were held in the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea with ships from the Russian Pacific Fleet also taking part.
Russia maintains a single overseas naval facility in Tartus, which hosts a Soviet-era naval supply and maintenance facility, under a 1971 agreement with Ba'athist Syria. The facility provides technical maintenance and logistical support to Russian warships deployed in the Mediterranean.
Republic of Korea
In 1995, the then Naval chief, Admiral An Pyongtae, set out the initial stages of developing the ROK Navy into a blue-water navy. This was later followed up by President Kim Dae-jung in 2001, when it was announced that plans would be put in place to build a "Strategic Mobile Fleet". The plan includes the construction of up to three Dokdo-class amphibious assault ships. In 2011, Government authorised the building of a naval base on Jeju Island to support these new ships, the base will also be capable of supporting joint forces with the US Navy. A ski-jump for the operation of V/STOL jet fighters is being considered for the second ship of the Dokdo-class.
- 1. ^ Professor of International Politics, Adrian Hyde-Price, highlights that in the post-Cold War era both Britain and France have re-focused their attention "towards expeditionary warfare and power projection. Power projection has always been an element of British and French military thinking given their residual over seas interests, but it has now moved centre stage."
- 2. ^ Royal United Services Institute (Occasional Paper, September 2013): "As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the independent ability to deploy a credible and powerful conventional force that enables access to most of the globe by sea is compelling. This force offers Britain the opportunity to commit political support in emerging crises to deter, prevent, coerce or – if necessary – destroy an aggressor, as envisaged in the UK’s National Security Strategy (NSS)."
- 3. ^ The Royal Navy does not typically use the term blue-water navy, but rather the term "expeditionary". "The Navy is always expeditionary and is able to deal with threats to our nation’s interest at range."
- 4. ^ Including the four Point-class sealift ships available under a PFI to the Ministry of Defence.
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