As Russia Goes at Sea Pt 1
The Persians were not a maritime people. They inhabited the semiarid region south of the Caspian Sea and did their fighting on land whenever possible. In these land wars they were, at least for a time, nominally successful. Cyrus, who founded the Persian Empire in 549 B.C. on the ruins of the Median Empire, quickly conquered the powerful and important nations of Lydia and Chaldea. His son, Cambyses, invaded and subdued Egypt. The third ruler, Darius I, inherited this empire and with it both a navy and a commitment to use it.
The navy Darius inherited was actually composed of three navies–those of Egypt, of the Phoenician cities, and of the Greek colonies in Asia Minor. The Egyptian fleet has been gained as a by-product of Cambyses’ land invasion of Egypt. The fleet of the Greek colonies had come to the Persians second hand, as a result of the conquest of Lydia, which had earlier absorbed the little Ionic Greek cities along the Asia Minor coast. The Phoenician fleet was not, strictly speaking, a Persian possession at all, since the Phoenician cities had never been formally conquered by Persia. As a good-will gesture they cooperated with their powerful neighbor in the capacity of semi-autonomous allies. As one symbol of their cooperation, they placed their warships at the disposal of the Persian ruler.
John Van Duyn Southworth–The Ancient Fleets
Power on Land, Uncertainty at Sea
A little surprise, a little smugness greeted the news that France was in serious talks for transferring a light carrier/assault ship design to the Russian Navy. Since the fall of the communist Soviet Union, Moscow has been desperate to restore to restore her fallen fortunes at sea, with the bulk of the once world’s largest fleet rusting in harbor. Even with an improved economy thanks to the rise in the price of oil in recent years, the government is bowing to the inevitable and seeking assistance from overseas to rebuild the Navy, as had the Czars in centuries past.
Need I also point out it isn’t just the former Cold War rival suffering from the realities of a new era, with resources stretched thin, and the price of land wars forcing ongoing neglect in rebuilding her own Cold War Navy. First let me point to a few headlines recently:
- Navy finds faulty welds on Northrop Grumman ships.
- More welding problems prompt another investigation on Navy submarines.
- Early tests show Lockheed LCS problems.
- U.S. Navy destroyer cost surges 86.4 %
- Cost of Ford carrier rises 6.3 percent
While it is true America’s Navy is in far better shape than many others, undoubtedly she is the world’s most powerful and effective, the signs of strain are too numerous to ignore. Even as her admirals are distracted with land threats, pumping billions into new aircraft carriers, airwings, amphibious ships and ballistic missile defense, they risk taking their sea dominance for granted, since a navy must also maintain control.
Except for a time when she was mostly confined to her East Coast past the Alleghenies, America is traditionally a land power. Despite a bias against standing armies inherited from England, she has been forced to create a powerful military heritage as she expanded across the continent. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century her people felt the need for large standing navy, but even these were mainly used to secure the sealanes, allowing for the passage of large numbers of troops, to Europe in 1917-1918, and also to the Pacific in 1942-45. During that last conflict, she even created a unique naval ground force, the US Marine Corps, unlike anything yet seen in history as far as numbers and capability, larger today than the entire British armed forces .
Naturally, land powers are principally concerned with land threats. There is probably only a single navy in recent history concerned principally with sea control and that was and remains the British Royal Navy. This has come about in recent years because of the expense of maintaining a capital-ship centric fleet, but also out of necessity because of her trade-dependent island status. Recently she has compromised this singular status for a more land centric mindset with an intention of deploying large attack carriers and a closer relationship with the Continent. All this despite that her frigates are as busy as ever.
A Benevolent Empire
America likes to consider herself Britain’s heir on the sea, but still depends on her powerful land armies forward based, more than the English ever did. Instead of a traditional Empire, she leads a powerful system of alliances and interdependency to keep rogue countries in check. This has been mutually beneficial to the dramatic economies of Europe and Asia, with even potential peer enemies such as China, Russia, and Iran prospering under the Pax American Freedom of the Seas.
America spends vast sums on her magnificent fleet of large carriers, nuclear subs, and missile battleships despite there being not a single rival at sea with anything like this historically unprecedented firepower. She continues to deploy very capable amphibious ships, even though the only opportunity to launch the Marines in a major operation against a defended beachhead during the 1991 Gulf War, she declined to use them. It is an expensive luxury when close allies already deploy such vessels out of necessity, often sending a small frigate to perform the same mission where we might send a powerful nuclear carrier and its expensive escorts.
Concerning Russia, here is a Continental power who, like America would prefer to be looked on as a major seapower. Like the US, she struggles constantly to build a significant fleet, when the real threat to the homeland is surrounding land powers, and now terrorist insurgents. If the US were to suddenly depart from its War in Afghanistan, you might see the terrorists start to infiltrate the Muslim populations within Russia’s borders, so her Army is all the more important, even in absence of a major conventional threat.
American difficulties with shipbuilding may not be funding as much as the reality her best defense lies on land. Even though she still has the world’s most powerful fleet, it is essentially useless in the presence of a hostile enemy fleet, as the Admirals insist ““The Purpose of the Navy is Not to Fight”. For this, in a major war she would have to rely more on allies, looking to Europe and Asia, Britain and Japan for the hulls required to maintain adequate control. As Russia is proving, this might be better than extinction.
Tomorrow-Future Navy, Made in Japan (or the EU)