Galrahn’s Population of the Sea
The following is a portion of a post this morning at Information Dissemination titled “Gate’s 10% Naval Force For Mullen’s 1000 Ship Navy” that explains a whole new way of thinking about modern war at sea. I wish all of our leaders and future naval leaders could take the following to heart, which would change the Navy as we know it, even how we build ships, just as similar thinking has transformed our ground forces fighting in the Middle East. Hope Galrahn doesn’t mind me posting such a bug chunk, as it was too important to abridge!
Population of the Sea
If General McCrystal is trying to tell the American people one thing right now in regards to Afghanistan, it would be the simple phrase “Its the population stupid.” The reason this is his primary talking point is because US strategy in Afghanistan consists primarily of developing partnerships with with the people who are present in the terrain that is also his battlefield. General McCrystal knows that not everyone who populates that terrain is a partner, or even a potential partner. The challenge is to make sure that those who are partners, or who represent potential partners, remain partners even as he either kills, or prevents action from those who are the enemy.
This human terrain and the challenges of the population can be directly applied to the South China Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Guinea, the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Japan, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Caribbean Sea, and every Bay, Channel, Isthmus, River, Gulf, or body of water not specifically named. Lets use the South China Sea and potential conflict with China as an example.
Every day in the South China Sea there are over 200,000 private and commercial vessels at sea. The majority of these vessels are within 50nms of land, which means almost nothing considering there are over 250 ~1-km² islands, atolls, cays, shoals, reefs, and sandbars in the South China Sea, most of which have no indigenous people, many of which are naturally under water at high tide, and some of which are permanently submerged. The population of just the people on a boat in the South China Sea is estimated over 1,00,000 daily.
In a world of hybrid warfare, how will naval forces identify friend and foe in the populated seas? If the intent is to build partnerships, preferably by avoiding the destruction of the folks we are not fighting, how will the helicopter or UAV know which fishing boat to sink and which fishing boat not to sink? Ultimately operations will require manpower at the point of engagement to identify friend and foe if partnership, and not killing our allies, is a core strategic operational objective (which it is).
The post concerned the building of small warships like the corvettes we often advocate for taking back the littorals within the 25nm limit the Big Ships dread. If we start thinking we need to retake the littorals, you immediately think “we need a bigger fleet”, and more boots on the ground is the same as more hulls in the water.