A blue-water navy is a maritime force capable of operating across the deep waters of open oceans. A term 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."
Blue-water capability means that a fleet is able to operate on the high seas far from its home base. 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 replenish at sea, 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. Maintenance and logistics at range yield 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.
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[A] has the ability to deploy an aircraft-carrier-based task group and the amphibious assault capability is provided by the Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. Other vessels include 10 nuclear submarines, frigates, patrol boats and support ships. Its roles include the protection of French interests abroad and the maintenance of global stability, as such France has a wide range of naval deployments throughout the world.
The Royal Navy[A] supports a number of standing commitments worldwide on a continuous basis and maintains one expeditionary task force (known as Response Force Task Group) based around a number of amphibious warfare ships, frigates, guided-missile destroyers, nuclear-powered fleet submarines and auxiliary ships. At present there is no fixed-wing carrier strike force following the retirement of the Harrier in 2010, and the fleets last remaining aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious, is now being operated as an amphibious assault ship or simply, a helicopter carrier. The Royal Navy Submarine Service operates four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (maintaining the UK nuclear deterrent) and seven nuclear-powered fleet submarines, operating globally.
The United States Navy maintains ten Carrier Strike Groups (centered on 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). It also maintains a continuous deployment of twelve Expeditionary Strike Groups that embark a Marine Expeditionary Unit with an Aviation Combat Element of Landing Helicopter Docks and Landing Helicopter Assault.
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 can operate blue-water navies, but "many States are converting green-water navies to blue-water navies and this will increase military use of foreign Exclusive Economic Zones littoral zone to 200 nautical miles (370 km) with possible repercussions for the EEZ regime."  Presently China, India, Japan, Russia and South Korea 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'. Rapid economic growth in the last decade enabled higher allocations to defence expenditure, particularly to the navy, which saw a huge expansion to fulfill the political goal of operating a blue-water fleet and dominating the Indian Ocean. By the year 2020, the Indian navy plans to operate around three carrier battle groups - with one carrier on its western seaboard, one on its eastern seaboard and the third undergoing an overhaul, maintenance, training or refit. It is also acquiring long-range naval aviation and a strategic submarine fleet. In recent years the Indian Navy has increased its presence from the Persian Gulf to the Horn of Africa and the Strait of Malacca, on security missions such as anti-piracy and partnership building with other navies.
The role of the JMSDF was almost restricted to protecting their homeland and home waters in the early days. But in 1981, Prime Minister Zenkō Suzuki put forward a new doctrine requiring the JMSDF to expand its operations 1,000 miles SLOCs defense. To respond to this requirement, the JMSDF deployed approximately 100 P-3Cs and four "new eight-eight" flotillas apart from five frigate divisions served for the green-water naval mission. These flotillas consisted of eight destroyers and eight Sea king (later SH-60J/Ks) anti-submarine helicopters. And now, every four flotillas each have two guided missile destroyers (and at least one of them is equipped with Aegis Weapon System), two of flotillas each have one Hyūga-class helicopter destroyer with flat flight deck, and the rest two flotillas have planned to have each one 19000t class destroyer with enhanced aviation operating capabilities.
But the ocean-going capability of the JMSDF was still insufficient outside of the Pacific Ocean. In the 2000s, this problem caught the attention of high administration officials with the rising of the War on Terror, and the JMSDF caught the second opportunity to expand its capacities as a “blue-water navy”. From 2001 to 2010, the JMSDF dispatch one or two destroyers and one fast combat support ship in rotation to participate in the Combined Task Force 150. And from 2009, with the threat of the Piracy in Somalia, the Japanese government added another task force in the Indian Ocean. The maritime component (DSPE) consists of two destroyers with SH-60 helicopters, and the air component (DAPE) is a joint task force and consists of a detachment with P-3Cs from the JMSDF and a garrison unit from the JGSDF. The DAPE bases itself next to Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, and this is the first postwar overseas military base of Japan.
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. One analyst has mentioned that as opposed to the Cold War era and the dominance of Atlantic and North Sea operations, Russia's strategic emphasis has shifted towards the Pacific regions where a rising China and a US shift in policy from the Atlantic to the Pacific are potential threats. In January 2013 the Russian defence ministry announced it would stage the largest naval war exercises for the Russian Navy since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were held in the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea. Ships from as far away as the Russian Pacific Fleet also took part.
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 four 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 be capable of supporting joint forces with the US Navy.
- 1. ^ Professor Adrian Hyde-Price points out 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. ^ The Royal Navy does not 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."
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- Professor Adrian Hyde-Price - "European Security in the Twenty-First Century: The Challenge of Multipolarity", published 9 Jan 2007 by Taylor & Francis Group. Chapter - Britain, France and the multipolar challenge.
- Royal Navy - At Sea
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