"Whoever rules the waves, rules the world."
- Alfred Thayer Mahan
This statement from one of our greatest naval thinkers speaks to the role sea power has played throughout history. From the Royal Navy after Trafalgar to the United States Navy following victory in World War II, it is hard to argue that command of the seas provides an extraordinary advantage for the nation that has the will and ability to do so.
But history also reminds us that more often than not, no one nation rules the seas exclusively and in my early years in the Navy during the Cold War, this was certainly the case. So when my peers and I reported to our first ships in the 1980s, we knew that Sea Control, the ability to control a portion of the sea to support power projection and other naval missions, was an essential competency in our profession.
In fact, we talked about Sea Control, we planned hard to execute it, and we drilled ceaselessly to achieve it. For any new SWO, it was a rite of passage to pass the first sea buoy, cease all emissions, and head to blue water while remaining "untargeted and unlocated." Once we got further out to sea, the tactical thinking didn't stop as we practiced surface-to-surface strikes, Silent Sam tactics, you name it. The Soviet Union, our adversary at the time, wasn't at rest either, with many of us having the encounters at sea with Soviet ships and aircraft to prove it.
But then a remarkable thing happened toward the end of my first decade of naval service - thanks in part to the role of the United States Navy, the Cold War ended, not in conflict as many imagined but in peace. As a result, for much of the last 25 years, the United States enjoyed the unfettered access to the sea that came with being the world's single great naval power.
This advantage enabled us to operate wherever and whenever needed, but as a consequence, we largely focused on Power Projection. Indeed, our focus on Sea Control, largely a given since 1990, atrophied. As we focused on other maritime missions such executing Tomahawk strikes from the sea and defending carrier strike groups, we simply stopped thinking about Sea Control as much as we should have.