Summary of my naval ideas


My basic charge against navies - particularly the German one - is an overemphasis on platforms. They like their ship hulls, their officer career opportunities and so on. They would resist a move to unmanned platforms, boats instead of ships, land-based systems instead of ships and so on with as much determination as horse cavalry officers resisted the acknowledgement of their obsolescence. Or maybe they do already.

So here's my opinion, which navies would abhor:

Maritime transport protection in wartime

(1) along secured lanes, following this model and improved by land-based fighter cover and mine hunters

(2) beyond those lanes in convoy format, possibly by means of armed merchantmen which carry containerized ASW* and AAW solutions even involving AEW&C helicopter support that enables the use of long-range air defence missiles (SM-6 and similar) even against low-flying targets

(3) harbour protection against divers and unmanned underwater vehicles

Defence against amphibious invasion

(1) land-based defences (sensors, missile launchers, communication)

(2) land-based combat aviation

(3) the army

None of the above requires a single warship more expensive
than a slow and small coastal minehunter
Navies would hate it.

Frigates and destroyers would no doubt still be useful, but only as escorts for the typically fast-moving aircraft carriers, in carrier strike groups. These again make sense primarily to project air power to areas far away from friendly air bases - which in itself almost perfectly excludes that this might be about national or collective defence. The U.S. defending Taiwan is about the only exception, and a most unlikely one. The expenses for a single CVN would suffice to greatly bolster Taiwan's defences and defence infrastructure directly.

That's why I think carriers and dedicated amphibious warships are offensive platforms, grossly inefficient for defence. This is also why I am so sceptical about the navies' obsession with super-expensive platforms with high operating costs. Containerised modules for armed merchantmen and coastal-based defences would be totally against the bureaucratic self-interest of navies, but they might be the much more cost-efficient approach.

The typical claims that navies protect maritime trade is ludicrous in context of a great war (against other great powers); the numbers of warships are grossly inadequate for this and many warships would be busy escorting offensive warships such as carriers and amphibious warfare ships. The German navy has a few high seas-capable frigates, but those wouldn't even suffice to protect the traffic lane in the coastal waters between Hamburg and Rotterdam only.


*: The loudly emitting low frequency sonars would enable long-range torpedo and missile shots by submarines at such a convoy, though. This may be an unacceptable problem if the guided munitions are effective enough. An answer might be to use a screen of sonar emitter boats in a multistatic LF active sonar network. The long range shot problem may be unavoidable with both armed merchantmen and regular warships, though: The long range of those guided munitions coupled with the loudness of civilian transport ships may enable effective shots from beyond any practical screening radius.


  1. No offense, but that's rather a shortsighted approach. It's like saying the Bundeswehr could abolish all it's armor and just drive open G-wagons, since even Leos can be blown up eventually.
    There's a lot to naval warfare more, just like land combat isn't just an infantry battle - although one could argue that's what it a actually comes down to.

    I understand that viewed from Germany - a traditional land power - naval ops seem redundant, but Germany benefits grately from safe SLOCs, and not just economically. The F-124 class is a strategic asset (when it receives its Msl defense update) as well. That's political power/influence right there.


    1. Germany hasn't had a good use for its navy since the Angles and Saxons were done invading England.
      Denmark hasn't had a good use for its navy since the Vikings were done invading England.
      The Netherlands haven't had a good use for their navy since the 18th century.
      France hasn't had a good use for its navy since the 18th century.
      Spain hasn't had a good use for its navy since the 19th century.
      Portugal hasn't had a good use for its navy since the 16th century.
      I think it would be fairly safe to cut back on navy hull counts.

      As written before on this blog, navies only pay off in wartime if you have the dominant one. There's very little use for navies in actual national or collective defence since defence happens in your neighbourhood, and that's in range of modern land-based assets.

      The idea of F124 offering political power or influence is outright ridiculous to me. Care to dream up a scenario where that might happen? What could that be? Blockade-running to Biafra? I suppose the armed merchantmen could pull that off as well.

      BTW, if the choice was between 500 ATGM launchers and 500 recoilless rifles to be mounted on requisitioned 4x4 cars as option A and only 50 affordable Leo2 as option B, it would be foolish to not choose option A for national defence.

      The extreme price of warships led to only prototype quantities being built, which is self-defeating.

  2. That is a problem for all armed forces, the price has gone up so much that the quantity makes the force impotent.

    Netherlands, France and Germany would have fared far better in they navies would have been stronger. You can't build a dominant navy overnight.

    1. "Netherlands, France and Germany would have fared far better in they navies would have been stronger. You can't build a dominant navy overnight."

      A navy of these countries would always have been much weaker than the RN, because all these countries would have to spend much more for ground forces than UK.

      A navy thant is not dominant is usually a waste when the army pays the price, like in Germany in 1914.

      Or more subtle, somtimes a navy can not be dominant - geostrategic aspects may render the same number of ships a mere accumulation of ships while the geography of the enemy nation produce real sea power (Germany vs UK).


    2. Essentially, countries would have been better at during wartime if they had been able to magically create resources for additional naval power.

      France couldn't have created a more powerful navy without critically neglecting its land power.
      The Netherlands could hardly have spent much more on their navy without wasting much of their prosperity. Germany had critical land power shortcomings in both 1914 and 1941 that could have been fixed by a reallocation of naval spending in the preceding years.

      Look at this:

    3. Netherlands was broken once the RN was able to dominate the Dutch navies.

      France had a good enough navy for the war it fought, but it failed to use it good enough.

      The common theme is that GB was going to abuse her position versus the continent powers in any case and counterbalance the most dominant land power.

      Germany didn't fail in the arms race, but in the basic skill of diplomacy. Stronger Schlieffen, more army corps are technical solutions to the underlying issue of having the far smaller GDP as alliance.
      Less naval spending would mean stronger GB army.
      WW2 was even more unfair resource wise.

    4. To have fewer resources than probable opponents is no excuse for wasting many of one's resources.

      Nowadays we certainly have superior resources, but that, too, is no excuse for their wasteful allocation.

    5. It isn't a waste if the opponent spends more. In fact, that way Germany could enter WWI with a chance, as BEF was tiny.
      GB was commited to outbuilding Germany, so each ship built wasted more of they resources then Germanies by a factor of almost 2.

      The fallacy is that the others wouldn't have reacted to a stronger army.

      Still, the epic failure of diplomacy after Bismarck is seen as predetermined, while small efficiency improvements in spending are over analysed.

    6. The British were so naval-minded that they didn't impose conscription until 1916.
      It's almost for certain that they wouldn't have reacted to a few more reserve corps in German armies.
      The French weren't able to react since they were running their army at maximum. Their navy might have been smaller, but not smaller than Italy's.

      I don#t call anything predetermined here at all. I'm looking at one point of failure at a time, cannot explain the whole world in a single blog post.

    7. The British were so naval minded because the Germans scared them. 1904 the budget for the army and the navy was about equal for GB. 1914 the army budget was lower, while the naval budget was triple the amount.

      Germany on the other hand was spending 1914 more on the army then GB and France combined while 1904 it was at about 65% of they combined spending.

      So clearly there was a strong focus on the army on the German side, while the naval spending forced the opponent to spend more to cover all bases.

      The French in 1913 extended they military service from 2 to 3 years, thus increasing the standing army from 600 000 to projected 850 000 in 1914, overtaking Germany. While simultaneity funding the modernization of the Russian army and the railway network.

      The Germans couldn't respond as the Left was angry about the consumption tax, while the right was angry about the wealth taxes that were introduced on the federal level.
      So the mood in Berlin was that the time to go was 1914, 1916 or 1917 the outlook was in they eyes not very favorable.

    8. The more someone usually spends on something military related, the more the opponent needs to spend as well to beat you (in general terms).
      Expensive ships like Tirpitz, even being moored far away, draw the attention and rose the need to have more/better ships than the enemy. The UK was fucked after the 2WW they won, as they were heavily indebted for years.
      Having a land-based Naval Air Wing is fine but ships can patrol longer than aircraft, stay in position and enlarge the range of your weapons.

      The optimal coastal vessel could be the Danish Flyvefisken Class boat. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flyvefisken-class_patrol_vessel

    9. The British were so naval-minded long before 1898, they maintained a 3-power strength, later 2-power; this means the RN was supposed to be equal to the 3 or later 2 next powerful navies combined.

      The UK wasn't really interested in European land warfare before 1914 anyway; save for the Crimea disaster they hadn't been on the continent in force for almost a century. Without the German naval buildup the UK would have looked at the growing power of the USN and IJN and spent about as much to maintain 2 power status against them.

    10. Well that was a thing in 1920, but not in 1904-1914. Germany had a comfortable 2 power margin, much less UK.

      There wasn't a lot of European land war, but GB did threaten to use force on the continent many times. 1877 it was them that stopped the Russians from taking Constantinople etc...

      The budget of 1904 reflects the priorities, with a 50-50 army navy split. The army would decrease in size by 1914 (the only major power to do so).

      From a budget standpoint the Germans got more then 1$ for 1$ dollar spent by the opposition. The only question is if that spending tipped GB to the other side.

  3. To expand on the first thought, the procurement strategy should be turned around to avoid the death spiral. Rather then ask for as capable as possible platform, we should ask for a fixed number at a fixed cost and make the capabilities the variable.

  4. Nonstrategies: Naval, Air, Nuclear (Luttwak: chapter 11)* [2/2]

    From fallacy of navy supremacy to the fallacy of air supremacy
    Luttwak goes even further in his reasoning, and we are leaving Naval warfare to enter Air warfare. He quotes the common thesis proposed by some airpower advocates (Giulio Douhet, William Mitchell and Hugh Montague) ‘that victory could be achieve quickly by superior airpower alone, without the enormous casualties of land warfare and the long years of naval blockade’.
    Luttwak give us an example: ‘the largest claims made for bombardment had been generally accepted in the 1930 (especially after the Spanish civil war and the destruction of Guernica), while its shortcomings of precision and volume had been overlooked.’
    We also have illustration of this in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq (two times, 1991 and 2003), Afghanistan (four times since the British invasion of 1839 and 1878, the Soviet invasion 1979 and US invasion of 2001) and Syria, which confirmed the fallacy of the idea that airpower alone can give quick victory.

    This failure of air supremacy was partly imputable to the development of long range radars and air defence systems, but not only. Air bombing campaign alone is not able to break the will to fight of an enemy and the airpower lack of ‘the explosive and fire-raising capacity to destroy an enemy’s flexible industrial capacity quickly’ (= ‘the political and industrial resilience of its victims’). This has been proved in the conflicts mentioned above.

    From fallacy of air supremacy to the fallacy of nuclear supremacy

    In the same way Luttwak continue with the view that ‘the entire conceptual edifice of deterrence was very quickly build, initially in the confident expectation that the ‘absolute weapon’ could avert absolutely all forms of aggression, all wars.’ This idea also proved false since the ‘wall of dissuasion that stopped a simple military domination was instead outmanoeuvred by subversion and countersubversion’ (political conspiracies, physical intimidation, bribery, infiltration, secret operations, false flag operations, propaganda, paramilitary actions, proxy wars, transnational terrorism etc.). The above mentioned countries are just a short list of examples.
    Moreover, the possibility of another party to retaliate to a nuclear attack is sufficient to nullify its threat in the first place.
    So we return to conventional ground warfare, increase expenditure… the never ending loop of mutual cancellation, that we discussed the other day:

    Russian, Chinese and Indian navies, influenced by Mahan’s concept, are not a considerable threat to EU and NATO for the reasons mentioned above.

    * E. Luttwak, Strategy, The Logic of War and Peace (1987 edition, pp.156-174).

  5. Most of the criticism against the German Navy could be levelled against the Italian, arguably even much more so given the relative and absolute spending on all sorts of platforms for the last 150 years...

    It's quite stunning how little the Italian navy achieved or influenced despite it's large budget share. While some value in peacetime will be hidden in hardly any war the expensive platforms mattered much.


    1. Here's ONE capital ship that sure was worth its money:

      The Italians had good use for torpedo and mine warfare boats, and could have had very good use for some ASW/AAW escorts in WW2. Instead, they built yet another balanced navy with prestige ships (and many racing ships called "light cruisers") that was largely meaningless in WW1, inferior and largely inactive in WW2 and had a very short window of potential utility in the late 1930's, when it was superior to the French navy. It couldn't have cut off the French from their African colonies, of course - nor could it have protected its eastward trade against the large French submarine force.

      The Cold War naval efforts in the entire Med were nonsense. The few potentially present Soviet warships would have succumbed to land-based air power anyway and Soviet subs in the Med would neither have received torpedo resupply nor was there good reason to believe the NATO armies would have hunted them down before much of their torpedo supply was exhausted.
      The Italians FELT as a maritime nation with so long coastlines and built again a navy for which they had no need or use.

    2. Thanks for the link, as I said once before I have little to no insight in specific platforms and never heard about it. Quite a different story for the nameship Pisa and especially the Amalfi...

      In both the Turkish War and WWI it vastly outnumbered their opponents and there is no doubt that the most of that capital would have benefited the army (or airforce ) far more. Actually pre-WWI the Italian political ambitions to annex Corsica and Nice might support some of that naval spending, however there is a good case of the army being the decisive arm in that case.

      To be honest it is quite amusing to read on the page of the Marina:

      La minaccia si materializzava nella squadra sovietica del Mediterraneo (Soviet Mediterranean Squadron, SOVMEDRON per la NATO), appoggiata da una consistente forza aerea basata sul litorale nord-africano. Di qui la necessità di adeguare lo strumento navale nazionale, nonostante un bilancio come sempre carente: nel 1970, dei 1.510 miliardi destinati alla Difesa l'aliquota devoluta alla Marina fu infatti di soli 200 miliardi, a causa di concezioni strategiche che privilegiavano tradizionalmente le esigenze aeroterrestri della difesa a nord-est.

      However likely the biggest problem of the Italian defence spending can be quoted right out of the

      "Rispetto al 2011, con riferimento alle Funzioni tradizionalmente utilizzate internamente al Dicastero, nelle quali è suddiviso il bilancio della Difesa in chiave tecnicofinanziaria (Difesa, Sicurezza del Territorio, Esterne e Pensioni Provvisorie del Personale in Ausiliaria), lo stanziamento evidenzia un incremento di 52,7 M€ (+0,4%) delle spese per la Funzione Difesa, per complessivi 14.413,0 M€ così ripartito per Settori di spesa:

      - spese per il Personale militare e civile in servizio (destinate alla retribuzione del personale
      con e senza rapporto continuativo di impiego) pari a 9.683,2 M€, con un incremento di 220,9 M€ (+2,3%) rispetto al 2011 approvato;

      - spese per l’Esercizio, destinate a garantire la funzionalità e l’efficienza dello Strumento militare, pari a 1.334,6 M€, con un decremento di 109,7 M€ (-7,6%) rispetto alla dotazione 2011;

      - spese per l’Investimento - destinate all’ammodernamento quantitativo e tecnologico dello strumento militare, al suo rinnovamento ed alla ricerca - pari a circa 3.395,2 M€, con un decremento di 58,5 M€ (-1,7%) sullo stanziamento 2011.

      La situazione riportata conferma la sentita necessità di un adeguamento organizzativo dello strumento militare, per assicurarne, nel tempo, la sostenibilità complessiva.

      Come precedentemente citato, tale intervento sarà avviato dal Governo in fase di esercizio delle deleghe di cui alla Legge 31 dicembre 2012, n. 244 in cui, fra l’altro, si individua, sia pur sul piano concettuale, la ripartizione ottimale delle risorse cui tendere nel medio-lungo termine nei diversi settori di spesa: 50% Personale e 25% per ciascuno dei settori Esercizio ed Investimento."

      Basically Italy spends most of it's defence money on wages, tendency rising as we are closing in fast on 80%. On Esercizio "to guarantee the funcionality and efficiency of the military instrument" a pity is spent. The rest is made up of Investments/aquistations...

      Of course I'm aware of the various effects on the budgets but in any case this is deeply flawed. Of course the military is aware of it, however I'm quite sure that answer of many to reach a 50/25/25 balance of Personal/Training/Investment is to spend a lot more money on new platforms and (training) facilities...


      Source: http://www.difesa.it/Content/Documents/DPP_2013_2015.pdf
      and other similar documents of various years...

  6. To sum it up:

    a) Italy spends very little on exercises/training despite those being key for a "functional and efficient war instrument"

    b) Italy spends most of it's reduced investments on big gold-plated projects like the F-35, carrier etc which squeeze out other aquisitions

    c) Italy spends almost all of it's budget on wages, tendency rising.

    Go to I-5, under "Quadro Generale" to look at some of the shocking medium-term stats:

    This is just the general picture, from page 120 (Allegati II) onwards you can find the breakdowns between Army, Airforce and Navy on personnel numbers and spending. Investments are a bit harder to break down as the chunky nature requires to look over a longer period. Maybe tommorrow.


  7. I just realized that somehow my first post vanished. In any case I never heard about that Italia ship in Greek service, but maybe the destiny of the other two Pisa-class units offers a snapshot of many of the Marina's problems.

    If you go directly to the official site of the Marina Militare you can feel, just as in the Italian Wikipedia article that somehow there was never money for them. A Cold War example:

    "La minaccia si materializzava nella squadra sovietica del Mediterraneo (Soviet Mediterranean Squadron, SOVMEDRON per la NATO), appoggiata da una consistente forza aerea basata sul litorale nord-africano. Di qui la necessità di adeguare lo strumento navale nazionale, nonostante un bilancio come sempre carente: nel 1970, dei 1.510 miliardi destinati alla Difesa l'aliquota devoluta alla Marina fu infatti di soli 200 miliardi, a causa di concezioni strategiche che privilegiavano tradizionalmente le esigenze aeroterrestri della difesa a nord-est."

    In that period Italy did actually get it's priorities mostly straight by concentrating the ressources against a potential invasion by a mighty foe against the industrial heartlands of Northern Italy instead of diluting the effort too much by chasing overall largely irrelevant ghosts.

    Having lost my former post I just wanted to repeat just some dire stats about how Italy changed the spending patterns just in ten years. There were lots of inefficiencies in 2002, however just look at those trends:


    Personnel: ~6.6 Bn

    Esercizio: ~3.6 Bn

    Investment: ~3.5 Bn


    Personnel: ~9.5 Bn

    Esercizio: ~1.5 Bn

    Investments: ~2.4Bn


    Personnel: ~6.1 Bn

    Esercizio: ~3.5 Bn

    Investment: ~3.2 Bn


    Personnel: ~9.6 Bn

    Esercizio: ~1.4 Bn

    Investment: ~3.1 Bn

    Far too simplified and rough, not adjusted but the sheer trend is all too obvious, and it is getting worse.


    1. That's the "hollow force" symptom, in which much is spent for show, with little substance (especially operating expenditures, training quality) behind it.

      Italy had this under Mussolini as well. It had almost two decades of military spending, parades, colonial wars, fast warships and thousands of warplanes - and by 1940 the artillery hadn't been modernised compared to 1919, the tank force was barely better as well, only a few dozen combat aircraft were competitive and the navy had marginal utility relevance beyond the central Med. The submarine and cruiser forces were embarrassments, the battleship force was unable to cope with WWI vintage RN battleships and the escorts were inadequate.

    2. Agreed. Keep in mind that those are official numbers, superficial and rough ones but there the shift towards a hollow force is so strong that almost every other argument pales in importance. Indeed it has been acknowledge in the same reports for many years:

      "Considerate le risorse storicamente disponibili per la “funzione difesa” e quelle di prevedibile disponibilità nei prossimi anni, con l’attuale livello di organici circa il 70% delle risorse complessive dovrebbe essere dedicato al personale. Questa condizione porterebbe, in breve tempo, al default funzionale dello strumento militare, cioè all’annullamento della sua capacità di generare output operativo. È indispensabile, pertanto, tendere quanto prima verso un riequilibrio fra la spesa per gli stipendi del personale, quella per l’operatività dello strumento e quella per gli investimenti, secondo un rapporto virtuoso – analogo a quello dei nostri alleati più significativi – dell’ordine di 50% / 25% / 25%." [page 16, Nota agguntiva 2012]

      The "functional default" of the military instrument is indeed close if not already there in some areas. Sadly the institutional imperative behind the personnel spending is so powerful that with the budget as it is the situation is just getting worse. A cynic might see an military effort to blackmail the state to give more by cutting itself to the bone but that explains just a small part of the problem. It is mostly about individuals in imperative institutions getting as much out of state as possible with little defence by the institution defence forces of our common good.

      On a side note the proportion of resources flowing into the Italian navy and perhaps to a lesser degree the airforce are too indeed too high. I will write about it later.


  8. Maybe it's better to offer a general snapshot of the personnel situation in which spending has greatly overtaken growth in the last 10-15 years. As usual it's just a rough overview, but it is rather revealing:

    Ufficiali = Officers
    Marescialli+Sergenti = NCO
    Leva = Conscripts

    2000/ 2004/ 2008/ 2012

    Officers: 24.339/ 25.780/ 25.111/ 22.843

    Marescialli: 69.814/ 65.298/ 63.330/ 54.606

    Sergenti: 5.651/ 9.701/ 12.520/ 16.766

    Volontari: 45.286/ 70.560/ 83.792/ 81.242

    Allievi: 4.532/ 3.124/ 2.045/ 1.193

    Leva: 116.163/ 28.210/ 0/ 0

    TOTAL: 269.617/ 202.673/ 186.798/ 177.300

    Once again the trends and the problems are quite clear. The rank inflation in the years after the end of conscriptions has also devalued ranks and depresses the initiative of the lower ones. Huge errors made 15 years ago are still felt painfully today, but that doesn't excuse inaction. Overall many are aware of the problems but between the saying and the doing is the ocean to use an Italian saying. Institutional imperative, path dependency, principal-agent, narrow framing et alia are all at work.