Green-water navy

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The littoral combat ship USS Independence was designed for green-water operations

Green-water navy is terminology created to describe a naval force that is designed to operate in its nation's littoral zones and has the competency to operate in the open oceans of its surrounding region.[1] It is a relatively new term, and has been created to better distinguish, and add nuance, between two long-standing descriptors: blue-water navy and brown-water navy.

It is a non-doctrinal naval term used in different ways. It originates with the US Navy, who use it to refer to the portion of their fleet that specializes in offensive operations in coastal waters. Nowadays such ships rely on stealth or speed to avoid destruction by shore batteries or land-based aircraft.

The US Navy has also used the term to refer to the first phase of the expansion of China's navy into a full blue-water navy. Subsequently other authors have applied it to other national navies that can project power locally, but cannot sustain operations at range without the help of other countries. Such navies typically have amphibious ships and sometimes small aircraft carriers, which can be escorted by destroyers and frigates with some logistical support from tankers and other auxiliaries.


The elements of maritime geography are loosely defined and their meanings have changed throughout history. The USA's 2010 Naval Operations Concept defines blue water as "the open ocean", green water as "coastal waters, ports and harbors", and brown water as "navigable rivers and their estuaries".[2] Robert Rubel of the US Naval War College includes bays in his definition of brown water,[3] and in the past US military commentators have extended brown water out to 100 nautical miles (190 km) from shore.[4]

During the Cold War, green water denoted those areas of ocean in which naval forces might encounter land-based aircraft.[3] The development of long-range bombers with antiship missiles turned most of the oceans to "green" and the term all but disappeared.[3] After the Cold War, US amphibious taskforces were sometimes referred to as the green-water navy, in contrast to the blue-water carrier battlegroups.[5] This distinction disappeared as increasing threats in coastal waters forced the amphibious ships further offshore, delivering assaults by helicopter and tiltrotor from over the horizon. This prompted the development of ships designed to operate in such waters - the Zumwalt class destroyer and the littoral combat ships; modelling has suggested that current NATO frigates are vulnerable to swarms of 4-8 small boats in green water.[6] Rubel has proposed redefining green water as those areas of ocean which are too dangerous for high-value units, requiring offensive power to be dispersed into smaller vessels such as submarines that can use stealth and other characteristics to survive.[3] Under his scheme, brown water would be zones in which ocean-going units could not operate at all, including rivers, minefields, straits and other choke points.[3]

The first and second island chains; China could use a green-water navy to control the South China Sea out to the first island chain

As the preeminent blue-water navy of the early 21st century, the US Navy is able to define maritime geography in terms of offensive action in the home waters of its enemies, without being constrained by logistics. This is not true for most other navies, whose supply chains and air cover typically limit them to power projection within a few hundred kilometres of home territory. A number of countries are working on overcoming these constraints, most notably China. China is expanding her navy in order to project power first over the South China Sea out to the first island chain (Japan/Taiwan etc.), and subsequently to the second island chain (Marianas and Carolines). The US military refer to the first phase as a green-water navy and the second as China's blue-water navy.[4] Other authors have started to apply the term "green-water navy" to any national navy that has ocean-going ships but lacks the logistical support needed for a blue-water navy. It's often not clear what they mean, as the term is used without consistency or precision.

It should be noted that a green-water navy does not mean that the individual ships of the fleet are unable to function away from the coast or in open ocean, instead it suggests that due to logistical reasons they are unable to be deployed for lengthy periods, and must have aid from other countries to sustain long term deployments. For example the small Ukrainian Navy participates in Operation Active Endeavour and its flagship, the Hetman Sahaydachniy has been deployed on the Somali coast to participate in Operation Atalanta.[7] Also the term "green water navy" is subjective as numerous countries that do not have a true green water navy maintain naval forces that are on par with countries that are recognized as having green water navies. For example the German Navy or the Republic of China Navy have near the same capability as the Canadian Navy or the Chilean Navy but are not recognized as true green water navies. However, the differences between blue water navies and brown or green water navies is usually quite noticeable, for example the United States Navy was able to quickly respond to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and continue operations in the region with relative ease even though the search area covered the Indian Ocean. On the contrary a green water navy such the Russian Navy was unable to properly respond when its AS-28 rescue vehicle became tangled in undersea cables unable to surface, relying on the blue water British Royal Navy to respond and carry out the rescue in time.[8]

Just as nations build up naval capability some lose it, for example the Austro-Hungarian Navy was a modern green water navy of the time, however as the countries lost their coasts during WWI their navies were confiscated and their ports became parts of Italy and Yugoslavia. The Axis powers lost naval capabilities after their defeat it WWII with most of Japan's imperial navy and Germany's Navy being disarmed and their troop and ship numbers capped and monitored by the allies. The collapse of the USSR also brought with it the collapse of the second largest naval force in the world, and the largest submarine force in the world. Although the Russian Federation made sure to inherit the most capable ships, passing most older models to successor states, it still lacked the logistical capabilities of the Soviet Navy as it was no longer able to operate away from Russian shores for extended periods of time. Moreover budget cuts forced large cuts in the submarine force, such as the retirements of the Typhoon-class submarine. As the Soviet Navy was built largely around submarine warfare the losses in the submarine capability have adversely affected the capability of the newly formed Russian Navy as well. A more modern example comes from the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine when most of Ukraine's fleet stationed in Crimea was confiscated by the Russian Federation leaving Ukraine with only 5 ships, this effectively destroyed the green water capabilities of their navy. The remaining ships regrouped in Odessa and were spared because they were either deployed away from the country, managed to escape Crimea, or were stationed in other parts of the country. Likewise Ukrainian Naval Aviation forces were also confiscated with only one Kamov Ka-27PL, three Mil Mi-14PL maritime helicopters, one Beriev Be-12 amphibian and two Antonov An-26 transports being able to escape Crimea before Russia completely occupied the region. The Russian Federation has stated that all equipment will be returned to Ukraine, however the process has been slow and is ongoing.

Countries described as having green-water navies[edit]

Brazilian Navy[edit]

The Brazilian Navy operates one aircraft carrier and two dock landing ships.

Brazil is known to have plans for two new CATOBAR aircraft carriers, likely replacing the one in service.[9]

Royal Canadian Navy[edit]

The Royal Canadian Navy's fleet consists of 66 vessels; 34 of which are commissioned ships (carry the HMCS designation). The RCN (formerly: MARCOM) operates 12 Halifax-class frigates, 1 Iroquois-class destroyer, 4 diesel powered Victoria-class submarines, as well as 12 Kingston-class coastal defence vessels. The Royal Canadian Navy operates all across the globe, most recently actively supporting coalition forces in the gulf of Aden (Operation Apollo), Libya (Operation Mobile) and the Persian Gulf during Canada's ten year commitment to the war in Afghanistan. Canada is currently considering the procurement of several surface combatants and Arctic patrol ships (similar to those used by the Norwegian and Danish navies to increase its already significant presence in the Arctic under the JSS program (Joint Support Ship).

Italian Navy[edit]

The Italian Navy operates aircraft carriers and landing ships.

Indian Navy[edit]

The Indian Navy operates two aircraft carriers—INS Viraat and INS Vikramaditya—and the landing ship INS Jalashwa. The Indian Navy has undertaken an extensive rearmament and modernization program and will operate another carrier strike/battle force group from INS Vikrant.

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force[edit]

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force deploys four "new eight-eight" flotillas consisted of eight destroyers (include helicopter carrier) apart from five frigate squadron served for the coastal defense mission. Naval aviation consists of 179 fixed-wing aircraft and 135 helicopters.

People's Liberation Army Navy[edit]

The People's Republic of China Navy is undergoing a modernization program. The PRC Navy has deployed assets in the Mediterranean Sea and conducted counter-piracy operations off the Somali coast.

The navy currently comprises one aircraft carrier, 3 transport docks, ~80 major surface combatants (destroyers/frigates) and up to 70 submarines (nuclear and conventional), along with hundreds of auxiliary/support vessels and landing ships.

The People's Liberation Army Navy also operates a naval air arm consisting of 500 aircraft and 56,000 naval infantry marines.

Republic of Korea Navy[edit]

The Republic of Korea Navy aims to operate a blue-water navy by 2020. They are undertaking an ambitious fleet build-up program.

  • Amphibious warfare ship - ROKS Dokdo
  • Amphibious warfare ship - ROKS Marado (budget was acquired[10])

These ships could also serve as small aircraft carriers if fitted with a ski jump module. The Korean government is considering to buy surplus Harriers as a possible interim for the F-35 Lightning II if they choose to operate VTOL aircraft at all.[11]

In addition to these landing ships, new surface combatants are being built under the KDX (Korean Destroyer eXperimental) program. Other smaller patrol boats, tank landing ships and mine warfare ships are being constructed as well.

This significant buildup is not only because of South Korea's blue-water ambitions, but the switch of wartime operational command from the US to South Korea by 2015.

Royal Australian Navy[edit]

In December 2007 the Royal Australian Navy ordered two Canberra-class helicopter landing docks (LHD) from a Spanish company based on the design of the Spanish Navy's Juan Carlos I. It is expected that they will receive the two ships starting in 2014.

Royal Netherlands Navy[edit]

The Royal Netherlands Navy is changing its role from national defence to intervention.[12] Royal Netherlands Navy operates Rotterdam class amphibious ships. Lead Ship was HNLMS Rotterdam, the second ship of the class is HNLMS Johan de Witt.

Russian Navy[edit]

The Cold War era Soviet Navy maintained a full blue water navy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was renamed as the Russian Navy and the fleet experienced a rapid deterioration due to lack of financing. However, in recent years, more funds are being spent on the armed forces.

The Russian Navy currently operates one aircraft carrier: Admiral Kuznetsov. In addition, it operates the Ropucha class amphibious ships.[13]

  • Carrier battle group- centered on Admiral Kuznetsov
  • Amphibious capability- centered on Ropucha class (15 in service + 4 Aligator class)

Russia is currently undergoing a massive rearmament and modernization program. In 2007 it planned to replace at least 45% of the equipment of its army and navy by 2015,[14] although the global financial crisis has reduced their ambitions since then. However there are still ambitious plans for future aircraft carriers. Under this building program the Admiral Kuznetsov will be replaced by two nuclear powered carriers. This new fleet will be at full strength by 2027.[15]

Spanish Navy[edit]

The Spanish Navy is conducting a modernization program.

  • Amphibious capability - Juan Carlos I (note that the Juan Carlos I serves as an aircraft carrier in addition to an amphibious assault ship)
  • Amphibious capability - Galicia-class LPD

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bratton, Patrick C (2012). Sea Power and the Asia-Pacific. London, United Kingdom: Routledge. ISBN 1136627243. 
  2. ^ "Naval Operations Concept 2010 - Implementing the Maritime Strategy" (pdf). US Naval Service. p. 16. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Rubel, Robert C. (Autumn 2010), "Talking About Sea Control", Naval War College Review 63 (4): 44–46 
  4. ^ a b Burkitt, Laurie; Scobell, Andrew; Wortzel, Larry M. (July 2003). "The Lessons of History : The Chinese People's Liberation Army at 75" (pdf). Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College. p. 185. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  5. ^ Gillespie, T.C.; Lesher, S.M.; Miner, P.D.; Cyr, B.P. (23 March 1992), Composite Warfare and The Amphibians (pdf), Marine Corps University, pp. 9–24, retrieved 7 May 2012 
  6. ^ Abel, Heiko (September 2009). "Frigate Defense Effectiveness in Asymmetrical Green Water Engagements". Naval Postgraduate School. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ [2]
  9. ^ Rafale News: Brazil, 2 new Aircraft carriers in sight ?
  10. ^ 정동권 기자 (2012-08-18). [단독] 해군, '제2독도함' 마라도함 도입 (in Korean). Retrieved 2013-05-10. 
  11. ^ Dokdo Class Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) - Naval Technology
  12. ^ Warship 2006, Conway's Maritime Press - World Navies in Review 2006)
  13. ^ see List of amphibious warfare ships#Russia.2FSoviet Union
  14. ^ Kislyakov, Andrei (5 October 2007). "Unmanned aerial vehicles increase in numbers". RIA Novosti. 
  15. ^ Aircraft carrier#cite note-28