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Ships from eight countries sailing together during the RIMPAC exercise in 2006.

The term blue-water navy is a colloquialism used to describe a maritime force capable of operating across the deep waters of open oceans.[1] While what actually constitutes such a force remains undefined, there is a requirement for the ability to exercise sea control at wide ranges. The term used in the United Kingdom is expeditionary.


Capabilities of a blue-water navy

"Blue-water" (high seas) naval capability[2] means that a fleet is able to operate on the "high seas." While traditionally a distinction was made between the coastal brown-water navy (operating in the littoral zone to 200 nautical miles (370 km)) and a seagoing blue-water navy, a new term "green-water navy" has been created by the U.S. Navy[3]. Green-water navy appears to be equivalent to a brown-water navy in older sources. The term brown-water navy appears to have been reduced in U.S. Navy parlance to a riverine force.

In modern warfare blue-water navy implies self-contained force protection from sub-surface, surface and airborne threats and a sustainable logistic reach, allowing a persistent presence at range. In some maritime environments such a defence is given by natural obstacles, such as the Arctic ice shelf.

Few navies can operate as blue-water navies, but "many States are converting green-water navies to blue-water navies and this will increase military use of foreign Exclusive Economic Zones [littoral zone to 200 nautical miles (370 km)] with possible repercussions for the EEZ regime." [4]

As there is no clear definition of a blue-water navy, the status is disputed. Usually it is considered to be strongly linked to the maintenance of aircraft carriers capable of operating in the oceans. "In the early 80s there was a bitter and very public battle fought over whether or not to replace Australia's last aircraft carrier, HMAS Melbourne. Senior navy personnel warned without a carrier, Australia would be vulnerable to all types of threat. One ex-Chief of Navy went so far as to claim that Australia "would no longer have a blue-water navy (one capable of operating away from friendly coasts)." [5]

The term blue-water navy should not be mixed up with brown, green and blue water capability or ship. U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Mullen pointed out in an interview with KQV (Pittsburgh): "We are looking at, in addition to the blue-water ships which I would characterize and describe as our aircraft carriers and other ships that support that kind of capability, we're also looking to develop capability in what I call the green-water and the brown-water, and the brown-water is really the rivers . . . These are challenges we all have, and we need to work together to ensure that the sea lanes are secure." [6] The capability for blue, green or brown water depends on the vessel's specifications. The vessels of a green-water navy can often operate in blue-water for example. A number of nations have extensive maritime assets but lack the capability to maintain the required sustainable logistic reach. Some of them join coalition task groups in blue-water deployments.

While a blue-water navy can project sea control power into another nation's littoral, it remains susceptible to threats from less capable forces. Sustainment and logistics at range yield high costs and there may be a saturation advantage over a deployed force through the use of land-based air or surface-to-surface missile assets, diesel-electric submarines, or asymmetric tactics such as Fast Inshore Attack Craft. An example of this vulnerability was the October 2000 USS Cole bombing in Aden.[7][8][9]


Navies described as blue-water navies

These are navies that have successfully used the capabilities of their blue-water navies to exercise control at high seas and from there have projected power into other nations' littoral waters.

  • The Russian Navy maintains a Carrier Battle Group around Admiral Kuznetsov and multiple Surface Action Groups centered around nuclear-powered Large Battle Cruisers of Kirov Class. Russia also maintains a posture of Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD) with its ballistic missile submarine fleet, comparable to United States Navy.[12]

Navies with limited blue water capabilities

Several other countries maintain navies capable of some "blue water operation". The Italian Navy operates 2 aircraft carriers, the Indian Navy[14][15][16] and Spanish Navy each operate an aircraft carrier and are capable of limited oceanic operations. The Brazilian Navy also owns a carrier but mainly operates in its coastal and regional waters. The Royal Thai Navy owns a Spanish-built carrier that is largely inactive. Many navies, including the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force,[17] Republic of Korea Navy,[18] Royal Australian Navy,[19] Canadian Forces Maritime Command,[20] and the People's Liberation Army Navy[21] operate a limited number of ships far from their home waters either alone or in coordination with true "blue water navies". None of these operate aircraft carriers.

See also


  1. ^ British Maritime Doctrine, BR 1806, Third Edition, dated 2004.
  2. ^ China's aircraft carrier ambitions: seeking truth from rumors Naval War College Review, Wntr, 2004 by Ian Storey, You Jiinfers.
  3. ^ Q&A with Adm. Michael G. Mullen 2006 CNO's Guidance Release Media Roundtable Pentagon, Washington, DC 13 October 2005
  4. ^ Naval activity in the foreign EEZ—the role of terminology in law regime Alexander S. Skaridov, St. Petersburg Association of the Law of the Sea, 7 Kazanskaya St., St. Petersburg 191186, Russia, Available online 11 November 2004
  5. ^ Why buy Abrams Tanks? We need to look at more appropriate options By Gary Brown - posted Wednesday, 31 March 2004
  7. ^ "HMS Norfolk goes back to the day job". Eastern Daily Press. June 7, 2003. Retrieved 2009-02-23.  
  8. ^ Rob van Heijster (April 6, 2005). "Smart Range of Burst fuzes". TNO. Retrieved 2009-02-23.  
  9. ^ "Protecting Naval Surface Ships from Fast Attack Boat Swarm Threats". January 10th, 2007. Retrieved 2009-02-23.  
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ A military power at political crossroads
  15. ^ Indian Navy Takes Big Strides Toward Blue Water Capability
  16. ^ Indian Navy recognised as a blue water force
  17. ^ "Japan ships join piracy patrols". BBC. 14 March 2009. Retrieved 30 September 2009.  
  18. ^ "해군작전사령부 창설 54주년..어제와 오늘 그리고 미래". Ministry of National Defense Official Website. Retrieved March 4, 2007.
  19. ^ List of recent Australian warship deployments to the Middle East
  20. ^ "Canadian ships to patrol Persian Gulf". The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 30 September 2009.  
  21. ^ "Chinese ships will fight pirates". BBC. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 30 September 2009.  

External links


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