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The littoral combat ship USS Independence was designed for green-water operations

Green-water navy is terminology created to describe a national naval force that is designed primarily to provide coastal defense and may be beginning to acquire the ability to sustain operations on the open ocean. It is a relatively new term, and has been created to better distinguish, and add nuance, between two long-standing descriptors: blue-water navy and brown-water navy.

It is a non-doctrinal naval term used in different ways. It originates with the US Navy, who use it to refer to the portion of their fleet that specializes in offensive operations in coastal waters. Nowadays such ships rely on stealth or speed to avoid destruction by shore batteries or land-based aircraft.

The US Navy has also used the term to refer to the first phase of the expansion of China's navy into a full blue-water navy. Subsequently other authors have applied it to other national navies that can project power locally, but cannot sustain operations at range without the help of other countries. Such navies typically have amphibious ships and sometimes small aircraft carriers, which can be escorted by destroyers and frigates with some logistical support from tankers and other auxiliaries. The term is sometimes applied to navies that focus solely on coastal defence, such as North Korea.


The elements of maritime geography are loosely defined and their meanings have changed throughout history. The USA's 2010 Naval Operations Concept defines blue water as "the open ocean", green water as "coastal waters, ports and harbors", and brown water as "navigable rivers and their estuaries".[1] Robert Rubel of the US Naval War College includes bays in his definition of brown water,[2] and in the past US military commentators have extended brown water out to 100 nautical miles (190 km) from shore.[3]

During the Cold War, green water denoted those areas of ocean in which naval forces might encounter land-based aircraft.[2] The development of long-range bombers with antiship missiles turned most of the oceans to "green" and the term all but disappeared.[2] After the Cold War, US amphibious taskforces were sometimes referred to as the green-water navy, in contrast to the blue-water carrier battlegroups.[4] This distinction disappeared as increasing threats in coastal waters forced the amphibious ships further offshore, delivering assaults by helicopter and tiltrotor from over the horizon. This prompted the development of ships designed to operate in such waters - the Zumwalt class destroyer and the littoral combat ships; modelling has suggested that current NATO frigates are vulnerable to swarms of 4-8 small boats in green water.[5] Rubel has proposed redefining green water as those areas of ocean which are too dangerous for high-value units, requiring offensive power to be dispersed into smaller vessels such as submarines that can use stealth and other characteristics to survive.[2] Under his scheme, brown water would be zones in which ocean-going units could not operate at all, including rivers, minefields, straits and other choke points.[2]

The first and second island chains; China could use a green-water navy to control the South China Sea out to the first island chain

As the preeminent blue-water navy of the early 21st century, the US Navy is able to define maritime geography in terms of offensive action in the home waters of its enemies, without being constrained by logistics. This is not true for most other navies, whose supply chains and air cover typically limit them to power projection within a few hundred kilometres of home territory. A number of countries are working on overcoming these constraints, most notably China. China is expanding her navy in order to project power first over the South China Sea out to the first island chain (Japan/Taiwan etc.), and subsequently to the second island chain (Marianas and Carolines). The US military refer to the first phase as a green-water navy and the second as China's blue-water navy.[3] Other authors have started to apply the term "green-water navy" to any national navy that has ocean-going ships but lacks the logistical support needed for a blue-water navy. It's often not clear what they mean, as the term is used without consistency or precision.

List of green-water navies

  Green-water navy

Brazil Brazilian Navy

The Brazilian Navy operates one aircraft carrier and two dock landing ships.

Brazil is known to have plans for two new CATOBAR aircraft carriers, likely replacing the one in service.[6]

Canada Royal Canadian Navy

The Royal Canadian Navy's fleet consists of 66 vessels; 34 of which are commissioned ships (carry the HMCS designation). The RCN (formerly: MARCOM) operates 12 Halifax class frigates, 3 Heavy Iroquois class destroyers, 4 Victoria class diesel powered submarines, 2 Protecteur class auxiliary vessels as well as 12 Kingston class coastal defence ships. The Royal Canadian Navy operates all across the globe, most recently actively supporting coalition forces in the gulf of Aden (Operation Apollo), Libya (Operation Mobile) and the Persian Gulf during Canada's costly ten year commitment to the war in Afghanistan. Canada is currently considering the procurement of several amphibious assault ships and Arctic patrol ships (similar to those used by the Norwegian and Danish navies to increase its already significant presence in the Arctic under the JSS program (Joint Support Ship).

Chile Chilean Navy

The Chilean Navy is developing an amphibious expeditionary capability centered on the ex-French Navy vessel Foudre.

Colombia Colombian Navy

The Colombian Navy has in order two amphibious capability ships from COTECMAR, a domestic supplier that works closely with the Navy to design and build ships.[7][8]

  • Amphibious Capability - Buques de Desembarco Anfibio (BDA)

Italy Italian Navy

The Italian Navy operates aircraft carriers and landing ships.

  • Carrier Battle Group - centered on Portaerei Cavour
  • Carrier Battle Group - centered on Giuseppe Garibaldi
  • Amphibious Capability - centered on San Giorgio

India Indian Navy

The Indian Navy operates one aircraft carrier - INS Viraat and the landing ship INS Jalashwa. The Indian Navy has undertaken an extensive rearmament and modernization program.

  • Carrier Battle Group - centered on INS Viraat
  • Amphibious Capability - centered on INS Jalashwa

Indonesia Indonesian Navy

The Indonesian Navy operates Makassar class landing platform dock. There are 4 ships in this class. The first long-range operation conducted by the Indonesian Navy was to rescue 20 Indonesians that were kept hostage by Somali Pirates in the Gulf of Aden on March 2011.[9][10]

Japan Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force deploys four "new eight-eight" flotillas consisted of eight destroyers (include helicopter carrier) apart from five frigate squadron served for the coastal defense mission. Naval aviation consists of 179 fixed-wing aircraft and 135 helicopters.

  • Helicopter Carrier - JDS Hyūga
  • Helicopter Carrier - JDS Ise
  • Helicopter Carrier - 19000t class destroyer (one currently under constructed, currently two are planned but that may change due to budget cuts)
  • Amphibious Warfare Ship - JDS Ōsumi
  • Amphibious Warfare Ship - JDS Shimokita
  • Amphibious Warfare Ship - JDS Kunisaki

China People's Liberation Army Navy

The People's Republic of China Navy is undergoing a modernization program. The PRC Navy has deployed assets in the Mediterranean Sea and conducted counter-piracy operations off the Somali coast.

The navy currently comprises one aircraft carrier, 3 transport docks, ~80 major surface combatants (destroyers/frigates) and up to 70 submarines (nuclear and conventional), along with hundreds of auxiliary/support vessels and landing ships.

The People's Liberation Army Navy also operates a naval air arm consisting of 500 aircraft and 56,000 naval infantry marines.

South Korea Republic of Korea Navy

The Republic of Korea Navy aims to operate a blue-water navy by 2020. They are undertaking an ambitious fleet build-up program.

  • Amphibious Warfare Ship - ROKS Dokdo
  • Amphibious Warfare Ship - ROKS Marado (budget was acquired[11])

These ships could also serve as small aircraft carriers if fitted with a ski jump module. The Korean government is considering to buy surplus harriers as a possible interium for the F-35 lightning II if they choose to operate VTOL aircraft at all.[12]

In addition to these Landing Ships new surface combatants are being built under the KDX (Korean Destroyer eXperimental) program. Other smaller patrol boats, tank landing ships and mine warfare ships are being constructed as well. This significant build up is not only because of South Korea's blue-water ambitions, but the switch of wartime operational command from the US to South Korea by 2015.

Australia Royal Australian Navy

In December 2007 the Royal Australian Navy ordered two Canberra class Helicopter Landing Docks (LHD) from a Spanish company based on the design of the Spanish Navy's Juan Carlos I. It is expected that they will receive the two ships starting in 2014.

Netherlands Royal Netherlands Navy

The Royal Netherlands Navy is changing its role from national defence to intervention.[13] Royal Netherlands Navy operates Rotterdam class amphibious ships. Lead Ship was HNLMS Rotterdam, the second ship of the class is HNLMS Johan de Witt.

Russia Russian Navy

The Cold War era Soviet Navy maintained a full blue water navy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was renamed as the Russian Navy and the fleet experienced a rapid deterioration due to lack of financing. However, in recent years, more funds are being spent on the armed forces.

The Russian Navy currently operates one aircraft carrier: Admiral Kuznetsov. In addition, it operates the Ivan Rogov class and Ropucha class amphibious ships.[14]

Russia is currently undergoing a massive rearmament and modernization program. In 2007 it planned to replace at least 45% of the equipment of its army and navy by 2015,[15] although the global financial crisis has reduced their ambitions since then. However there are still ambitious plans for future aircraft carriers. Under this building program the Admiral Kuznetsov will be replaced by two nuclear powered carriers. This new fleet will be at full strength by 2027.[16]

Singapore Republic of Singapore Navy

The Republic of Singapore Navy operates Formidable class frigate and the Endurance class landing platform dock ship. This ships have been deployed to places as far as Somalia for counter piracy operation. The Endurance class landing platform dock ship have also been used to travel to regional destinations as part of the midshipman sea training term.[17][18]

Amphibious Capability - centered on the Endurance class landing platform dock ship

Spain Spanish Navy

The Spanish Navy is conducting a modernization program.

  • Amphibious Capability - Juan Carlos I (note that the Juan Carlos I serves as an aircraft carrier in addition to an amphibious assault ship)
  • Amphibious Capability - Galicia Class LPD

See also


  1. "Naval Operations Concept 2010 - Implementing the Maritime Strategy" (pdf). US Naval Service. p. 16. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Rubel, Robert C. (Autumn 2010). "Talking About Sea Control". pp. 44–46. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Burkitt, Laurie; Scobell, Andrew; Wortzel, Larry M. (July 2003). "The Lessons of History : The Chinese People's Liberation Army at 75" (pdf). Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College. p. 185. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  4. Gillespie, T.C.; Lesher, S.M.; Miner, P.D.; Cyr, B.P. (23 March 1992). "Composite Warfare and The Amphibians" (pdf). Marine Corps University. pp. 9–24. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  5. Abel, Heiko (September 2009). "Frigate Defense Effectiveness in Asymmetrical Green Water Engagements". Naval Postgraduate School. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  6. Rafale News: Brazil, 2 new Aircraft carriers in sight ?
  9. Indonesia sends troops for hostage rescue operation against Somali pirates
  10. Antara News : RI govt already sent mlitary troops to Somalia
  11. 정동권 기자 (2012-08-18). "[단독 해군, '제2독도함' 마라도함 도입"] (in Korean). Retrieved 2013-05-10. 
  12. Dokdo Class Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) - Naval Technology
  13. Warship 2006, Conway's Maritime Press - World Navies in Review 2006)
  14. see List of amphibious warfare ships#Russia.2FSoviet Union
  15. Kislyakov, Andrei (5 October 2007). "Unmanned aerial vehicles increase in numbers". RIA Novosti. 
  16. Aircraft carrier#cite note-28
  18. Er is iets misgegaan. - YouTube

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