American Sea Power and the Obsolescence of Capital Ship Theory

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About the Book

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the United States has sought to achieve Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan’s vision of “command of the sea” using large battle fleets of capital ships. This strategy has been generally successful: no force can oppose the U.S. Navy on the open seas.
Yet capital ship theory has become increasingly irrelevant. Globally, irregular warfare dominates the spectrum of conflict, especially in the aftermath of 9/11. Fleet engagements are a thing of the past and even small scale missions that rely on capital ships are challenged by irregular warfare.
In a pattern evident since World War II, the U.S. Navy has attempted to adapt its capital ship theory to irregular conflicts—with mixed results—before returning to traditional operations with little or no strategic debate. This book discusses the challenges of irregular warfare in the 21st century, and the need for U.S. naval power to develop a new strategic paradigm.

About the Author(s)

Dr. R.B. Watts is a retired Coast Guard captain who has written extensively on sea power and contingencies in USNI Proceedings, the Naval War College Review and other professional journals and most recently served as the Coast Guard Chief of Contingency Planning and Exercises before retiring to take a professorship at the National War College, where he teaches courses in war and statecraft, domestic policy, homeland security, military history, and irregular warfare. He lives in Washington D.C.

Bibliographic Details

R.B. Watts
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 232
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9879-6
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2076-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments vi

Preface 1

Introduction 5

One. The Changing Paradigm of War: The United States and Irregular Warfare Theory 15

Two. The Philosophy: A.T. Mahan and the Foundations of U.S. Naval Thought 30

Three. War Fighting Theory and Practice, 1914–1941: The Ascendancy of the Capital Ship 40

Four. Lessons, Retrenchment, and Theory, 1945–1951 57

Five. Theory and the Challenge of Irregular Warfare, 1950–1980 73

Six. Theoretical Renaissance: The Maritime Strategy, 1980–1990 92

Seven. Strategy Adrift, 1990–2001 115

Eight. The New Challenge: 9/11 and the Use of Naval Power in Irregular Warfare 134

Nine. The Legacy Lives On 163

Conclusions—The Cycles of History 177

Chapter Notes 181

Bibliography 203

Index 217

Book Reviews & Awards

“Watts does an admirable job of covering the historical basis for his theory…a noteworthy entry into an area that is rarely explored…meticulous research…a worthwhile read”—Center for International Maritime Security.