Military Wiki

The USS Abraham Lincoln leads a formation of ships from eight countries during the RIMPAC exercise in 2006.

A blue-water navy is a maritime force capable of operating across the deep waters of open oceans.[1] A term used in the United Kingdom to describe such a force is a navy possessing maritime expeditionary capabilities.[2] While definitions of what actually constitutes such a force vary, there is a requirement for the ability to exercise sea control at wide ranges.

The Defense Security Service of the United States has defined the blue-water navy as, "a maritime force capable of sustained operation across the deep waters of open oceans. A blue-water navy allows a country to project power far from the home country and usually includes one or more aircraft carriers. Smaller blue-water navies are able to dispatch fewer vessels abroad for shorter periods of time."[3]

Attributes of a blue-water navy

Blue-water capability means that a fleet is able to operate on the high seas far from its home base. Some operate throughout the world.[4] It implies force protection from sub-surface, surface and airborne threats and a sustainable logistic reach, allowing a persistent presence at range. A hallmark of a true blue-water navy is the ability to replenish at sea,[5] and the commissioning of underway replenishment ships is a strong sign of a navy's blue-water ambitions.[6] Despite the above however, there is no agreed definition of the term.

In public discourse, blue-water capability is identified with the operation of iconic capital ships such as battleships and aircraft carriers. For instance, during the debate in the 1970s whether Australia should replace HMAS Melbourne, a former Chief of Navy claimed that if Australia did not replace her last aircraft carrier, she "would no longer have a blue-water navy".[7] In the end Australia did not buy a new carrier, but former Parliamentary defence advisor Gary Brown could still claim in 2004 that her navy remained "an effective blue-water force".[7] The Soviet Navy towards the end of the Cold War is another example of a blue-water navy[8] that had minimal carrier aviation, relying instead on submarines, missile-carrying surface ships, and long-range bombers based on land.

While traditionally a distinction was made between the coastal brown-water navy (operating in the littoral zone to 200 nautical miles/370 kilometres) and a seagoing blue-water navy, the new term green-water navy has been created by the U.S. Navy.[9][10] Green-water navy appears to be equivalent to a brown-water navy in older sources. The term brown-water navy appears to have been altered in U.S. Navy parlance to a riverine force.

The term blue-water navy should not be confused with the capability of an individual ship. For example, vessels of a green-water navy can often operate in blue water for short periods of time. 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 such as anti-piracy patrols off Somalia.

While a blue-water navy can project sea control power into another nation's littoral, it remains susceptible to threats from less capable forces. Maintenance and logistics at range yield high costs, and there might 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.[11][12]

Countries described as having blue-water navies

These are navies that have successfully used the capabilities of their blue-water navies to exercise control on the high seas and from there have projected power into other nations' littoral waters.[13]


 French Navy

The French Navy[A] has the ability to deploy an aircraft-carrier-based task group and the amphibious assault capability is provided by the Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. Other vessels include 10 nuclear submarines, frigates, patrol boats and support ships. Its roles include the protection of French interests abroad and the maintenance of global stability, as such France has a wide range of naval deployments throughout the world.[14]

Elements of the Royal Navy's expeditionary Response Force Task Group conducting RAS in preparation for exercise Cougar 11. Pictured, HMS Albion (left), RFA Fort Rosalie (centre) and HMS Ocean (right).

United Kingdom

Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy

The Royal Navy[A] supports a number of standing commitments worldwide on a continuous basis[15] and maintains one expeditionary task force (known as Response Force Task Group) based around a number of amphibious warfare ships, frigates, guided-missile destroyers, nuclear-powered fleet submarines and auxiliary ships. At present there is no fixed-wing carrier strike force following the retirement of the Harrier in 2010, and the fleets last remaining aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious, is now being operated as an amphibious assault ship or simply, a helicopter carrier. The Royal Navy Submarine Service operates four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (maintaining the UK nuclear deterrent) and seven nuclear-powered fleet submarines, operating globally.

The Royal Navy has shown many examples of its expeditionary capabilities,[B] including during the Falklands war in 1982 and more recently during Operation Telic (2003 invasion of Iraq).

United States

 United States Navy

The United States Navy maintains ten Carrier Strike Groups (centered on Nimitz-class carriers), of which six are deployed or ready for deployment within 30 days, and two ready for deployment within 90 days under the Fleet Response Plan (FRP). It also maintains a continuous deployment of twelve Expeditionary Strike Groups that embark a Marine Expeditionary Unit with an Aviation Combat Element of Landing Helicopter Docks and Landing Helicopter Assault.[16]

The US Navy has seen several examples of blue-water combat capabilities from the Korean War to Operation Enduring Freedom and has ability to project force onto the littoral regions of the world, engage in forward areas during peacetime, and rapidly respond to regional crises,

Countries described as having potential blue-water navies

Few countries can operate 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." [17] Presently China,[18] India,[19][20] Japan,[21] Russia[22] and South Korea[23] have stated their intentions towards developing blue-water capabilities.


 People's Liberation Army Navy

In 2008 the BBC reported that a senior Chinese defence official (Major General Qian Lihua) confirmed China was to operate a small fleet of aircraft carriers. However, it was said to be for the purpose of regional defence as opposed to "global reach".[24] A report in late 2012 by the United States has outlined China's recent naval modernization efforts and intentions of developing blue-water capabilities. The report suggested that while China is developing a blue-water navy, it will be more regional in nature rather than global. Chinese strategists call this “a regional [blue-water] defensive and offensive navy."[18] PLA officials have outlined plans to operate in the First and Second island chains.[25]

The Indian aircraft carrier INS Viraat during Exercise Malabar in 2007.


 Indian Navy

The Indian Navy has publicly stated its intentions to develop blue-water capabilities under the 'Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan'.[19][20] Rapid economic growth in the last decade enabled higher allocations to defence expenditure, particularly to the navy, which saw a huge expansion to fulfill the political goal of operating a blue-water fleet and dominating the Indian Ocean.[26][27] By the year 2020, the Indian navy plans to operate around three carrier battle groups - with one carrier on its western seaboard, one on its eastern seaboard and the third undergoing an overhaul, maintenance, training or refit.[28] It is also acquiring long-range naval aviation and a strategic submarine fleet.[29] In recent years the Indian Navy has increased its presence from the Persian Gulf to the Horn of Africa and the Strait of Malacca, on security missions such as anti-piracy and partnership building with other navies.[19][30]

The landing ship tank Shimokita, the guided-missile destroyer Atago and the helicopter destroyer Hyūga of the JMSDF on exercise with the Marine Expeditionary Force of the U.S. 3rd Fleet in 2013.


 Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force

The role of the JMSDF was almost restricted to protection their homeland and home waters in the early days. But in 1981, Prime Minister Zenkō Suzuki put forward a new doctrine requiring the JMSDF to expand its operations 1,000 miles SLOCs defense.[31][32] To respond this requirement, the JMSDF deployed approximately 100 P-3Cs and four "new eight-eight" flotillas apart from five frigate divisions served for the green-water naval mission. These flotillas consisted of eight destroyers and eight Sea king (later SH-60J/Ks) anti-submarine helicopters. And now, every four flotillas each have two guided missile destroyers (and at least one of them is equipped with Aegis Weapon System), two of flotillas each have one Hyūga-class helicopter destroyer with flat flight deck, and the rest two flotillas have planned to have each one 19000t class destroyer with enhanced aviation operating capabilities.[33][34]

But the ocean-going capability of the JMSDF was still insufficient outside of the Pacific Ocean. In the 2000s, this problem caught the attention of high administration officials with the rising of the War on Terror, and the JMSDF caught the second opportunity to expand its capacities as a “blue-water navy”.[35] From 2001 to 2010, the JMSDF dispatch one or two destroyers and one fast combat support ship in rotation to participate in the Combined Task Force 150.[36][37] And from 2009, with the threat of the Piracy in Somalia, the Japanese government added another task force in the Indian Ocean. The maritime component (DSPE) consists of two destroyers with SH-60 helicopters, and the air component (DAPE) is a joint task force and consists of a detachment with P-3Cs from the JMSDF and a garrison unit from the JGSDF. The DAPE bases itself next to Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, and this is the first postwar overseas military base of Japan.[38]

The Russian battlecruiser Petr Velikiy and an Udaloy-class destroyer of the Northern Fleet during tactical exercises with the Baltic Fleet in 2003.


 Russian Navy

The Cold War era Soviet Navy maintained naval forces able to rival those of the United States Navy, however, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 the fleet experienced a severe decline due to lack of funding.[39] In 2012, President Vladimir Putin announced an increase in spending to the Russian Navy as part of a long-term intention to recreate a blue-water navy.[citation needed][22] One analyst has mentioned that as opposed to the Cold War era and the dominance of Atlantic and North Sea operations, Russia's strategic emphasis has shifted towards the Pacific regions where a rising China and a US shift in policy from the Atlantic to the Pacific are potential threats.[40] In January 2013 the Russian defence ministry announced it would stage the largest naval war exercises for the Russian Navy since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were held in the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea. Ships from as far away as the Russian Pacific Fleet also took part.[41][42]

South Korea

Naval Jack of South Korea.svg Republic of Korea Navy[43][44]

In 1995, the then Naval chief, Admiral An Pyongtae, set out the initial stages of developing the ROK Navy into a blue-water navy. This was later followed up by President Kim Dae-jung in 2001, when it was announced that plans would be put in place to build a "Strategic Mobile Fleet".[23] The plan includes the construction of up to four Dokdo class amphibious assault ships. In 2011, Government authorised the building of a naval base on Jeju Island to support these new ships, the base will be capable of supporting joint forces with the US Navy.[45]

See also


1. ^ Professor Adrian Hyde-Price points out that in the post-Cold War era, both Britain and France have re-focused their attention "towards expeditionary warfare and power projection. Power projection has always been an element of British and French military thinking given their residual over seas interests, but it has now moved centre stage."[46]
2. ^ The Royal Navy does not use the term blue-water navy, but rather the term "expeditionary". "The Navy is always expeditionary and is able to deal with threats to our nation’s interest at range."[47]


  1. "British Maritime Doctrine, BR 1806, Third Edition". 2004. "The operating areas of maritime forces range from the deep waters of the open oceans (known colloquially as blue water)." 
  2. UK Maritime Expeditionary Capabilities and the Lessons of the Falklands Conflict.
  3. "Special Focus Area: Marine Sensors". Targeting U.S. Technologies: A Trend Analysis of Reporting from Defense Industry. Defense Security Service (United States Department of Defense). 2010. Retrieved July 15, 2012. 
  5. Winkler, David Frank (2000). "Cold war at sea: high-seas confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union". Naval Institute Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-55750-955-0. 
  6. Cole, Bernard D. (2001). The Great Wall at Sea: China's Navy Enters the Twenty-First Century. Naval Institute Press. p. 104. ISBN 978-1-55750-239-1. Retrieved 30 April 2012. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Brown, Gary (31 March 2004). "Why buy Abrams Tanks? We need to look at more appropriate options". The National Forum. 
  8. Andrew Cockburn (1984). "into+a+blue+water" The threat: inside the Soviet military machine. Vintage Books. p. 408. ISBN 978-0-394-72379-2."into+a+blue+water". Retrieved 30 April 2012.  In the Congressional hearings for the 1980 Defense Appropriations Act, US CNO Thomas B. Hayward described the Soviet Navy as "a blue water navy powerful enough to challenge the US Navy in most major ocean areas of the world"
  9. Q&A with Adm. Michael G. Mullen 2006 CNO's Guidance Release Media Roundtable Pentagon, Washington, DC 13 October 2005
  10. 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." KQV RADIO (PITTSBURGH) INTERVIEW WITH JOE FENN MAY 19, 2006
  11. Rob van Heijster (April 6, 2005). "Smart Range of Burst fuzes". TNO. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  12. "Protecting Naval Surface Ships from Fast Attack Boat Swarm Threats". January 10, 2007. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  13.[dead link]
  14. French Navy official website
  15. current fleet deployments
  16. Status of the U.S Navy
  17. 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
  18. 18.0 18.1 Ronald O'Rourke, "China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress", December 10, 2012, page 7
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Scott, David (2007/8). "India's drive for a 'blue water' navy". p. 42. Archived from the original on 2008-05-28. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Indian Foreign Policy: Challenges and Opportunities. Academic Foundation. 2007. ISBN 978-81-7188-593-0. 
  21. Richard J. Samuels (September 2007). ""New Fighting Power!" for Japan?" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-05-07. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Putin Pledges Billions to Build a Blue-Water Navy 2 August 2012[dead link]
  23. 23.0 23.1 "김대통령, 해군사관학교 졸업 및 임관식 참석말씀". Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library Official Website. Retrieved March 12, 2007.
  24. A senior Chinese defence official has told a British newspaper that any great power would want an aircraft carrier
  25. "China to conduct naval drills in Pacific amid tension". Reuters. 30 January 2013. 
  26. Warship. London: Conway Maritime Press. 2007. p. 164. ISBN 1844860418. 
  27. India’s Military Modernization: Plans and Strategic Underpinnings, Gurmeet Kanwal, September 24, 2012
  28. Indian Naval Strategy in the Twenty-First Century. United States: Taylor & Francis. May 2009. ISBN 978-0-415-58600-9. 
  29. "India’s Quiet, Big Naval Splash". 2 June 2013. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  30. Indian Navy - NAVAL OPERATIONS
  31. Tomohisa Takei (11 2008). "Japan Maritime Self Defense Force in the New Maritime Era" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-12-03. 
  32. Katsumata, Hidemichi (02 2009). "Japanese sealane defense today". Japan: Kaijin-sha. pp. 76–81. 
  33. Koda, Yoji (11 2011). "History of Fleet Escort Force since 1961". Japan: Kaijin-sha. pp. 76–85. 
  34. Euan Graham (01 2006). Japan's Sea Lane Security, 1940-2004: A Matter Of Life And Death?. Routledge. 
  35. Richard Tanter. "Japan’s Indian Ocean Naval Deployment: Blue water militarization in a "normal country"". Retrieved 2013-05-06. 
  36. Japan Ministry of Defense. "Activities based on Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law (December 2001 - October 2007) - Replenishment Operations". Retrieved 2013-05-06. 
  37. Asahi Shimbun. "Japan’s New Blue Water Navy: A Four-year Indian Ocean mission recasts the Constitution and the US-Japan alliance". Retrieved 2013-05-06. 
  38. Japan Ministry of Defense. "MOD/JSDF ANSWERS - Anti-Piracy Efforts". Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  39. Jane', Russian Navy facing 'irreversible collapse'
  40. Russian navy shifts strategic focus May 23rd, 2011
  41. [1]
  42. [2]
  43. Roehrig, Terence. "Republic of Korea Navy and China's Rise: Balancing Competing Priorities". Maritime Asia Report. Belfer Centre. Retrieved 2013-04-24. 
  44. Koda, Yoji (Spring 2010). "The Emergence of a Korean Navy". Naval War College Review. pp. 23. 
  45. Sang-Hun, Choe (18 August 2011). "South Korean Navy Base Divides Jeju Island Residents". The New York Times. 
  46. Professor Adrian Hyde-Price - "European Security in the Twenty-First Century: The Challenge of Multipolarity", published 9 Jan 2007 by Taylor & Francis Group. Chapter - Britain, France and the multipolar challenge.
  47. Royal Navy - At Sea

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