Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Dean Emeritus Wayne Hughes, renowned as a foremost authority on naval tactics, has just published a new edition of his seminal book, “Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations.”
Co-authored with retired Rear Adm. Robert Girrier, and with a forward by Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, the new third edition traces the historical evolution of tactics, analysis and operations from the age of sail to the present, including an expanded understanding of how emerging technologies are impacting battles at sea.
“This edition emphasizes information warfare, including unmanned vehicles, cyber warfare, modern means of deception, and artificial intelligence,” Hughes explained. “There is a whole new chapter on information warfare and its influence on tactics.
“The main reason for reading the new edition is its descriptions of how to fight and win battles past, present and future,” he added.
“Fleet Tactics” has long been considered a go-to resource for Navy officers on battle planning and tactical thinking since it was first published in 1986. Its relevance has not waned over the last four decades, and continues to be a ‘wheel book’ for freshly-minted junior officers and seasoned leadership alike.
“I am sure that I am not alone when I say that my copy of ‘Fleet Tactics’ is one of the most consulted, most dog-eared, most underlined, most marked-up books in my library,” Richardson wrote in his forward. “The book filled an important void, providing an up-to-date treatise on the importance and execution of tactics in modern naval warfare.”
The landmark study was the first since World War II to thoroughly examine technological advances for the American Navy to successfully engage a peer competitor – the Soviet Union. The second edition, published in 2000 at the apex of the post-Cold War era, explored tactical adaptation to missile threats and littoral operations.
“Wayne Hughes’ ‘Fleet Tactics’ is one of the most widely-read books on naval warfare,” said retired Navy Capt. Jeff Kline, NPS Professor of Practice in the operations research department. “This new edition maintains the foundational lessons of the first two editions, while addressing the emerging impact of cyber and robotics on naval tactics.”
Throughout the post-Cold War era, the United States enjoyed naval ascendency and technological superiority. However, with the arrival of the information age, near-peer adversaries have emerged in the virtual domains of space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum, according to Richardson.
“The U.S. Navy now faces significant blue-water competition,” he wrote. “It is no longer possible to ignore fleet-to-fleet engagements as naval forces seek to influence events ashore; navies will have to fight their way in from far out at sea.”
“The sea-control game is back on, and we need to get moving – and new tactics will lead the way,” he added.
The third edition of “Fleet Tactics” also considers how technological advances affect operations in traditional domains: undersea, on the surface, in the air and over land in the littorals.
The on-demand availability of precise information and networks to nearly anyone – not only adversarial militaries – has shifted focus from information superiority to decision superiority in these environments, pushing commanders to think in new ways, Richardson said.
“The introduction of information warfare into fleet tactics is an important development that demands critical analysis and thought,” he wrote. “The imperative that we update our tactics to account for this new reality is here.”
“In an era where ‘firing effectively first’ may now mandate that the first salvos will be non-kinetic, this update is a timely ‘kick’ to remind us to rig for sea and get under way,” he wrote.