Sea Power Since the Machine Age | Research

Sea Power Since the Machine Age: Technology in Modern Great Power Naval Competition

This project looks at how new technology has affected Great Power naval competition in the modern era. Specifically, it asks whether new technology has tended to favor or harm the dominant naval power’s ability to convert its material superiority into success in battle or credible deterrence. I argue that in most cases new technology has favored the dominant power. This argument runs counter to the conventional wisdom, particularly regarding a prospective U.S.-Chinese competition.This is an important argument to make given the rapid increase in Chinese naval power over the past 20 years, and more recent increases in tension between China and its neighbors. These raise the prospect of a new Great Power competition between the U.S. and China which would be almost entirely naval in the broad sense of that term. Threat assessments regarding Chinese sea and air forces and ensuing debates over U.S. naval and air strategy and force structure demonstrate that there is very little agreement about how such a competition would unfold should it occur. This should not be surprising for two reasons. Naval warfare became much more complicated with the introduction of aircraft and submarines. They caused a shift away from two dimensional battles between similar platforms operating within visual range of each other to three dimensional battles, often between dissimilar platforms, in which non-visual sensors often played a decisive role. But World War II represents the only experience of Great Power naval warfare in all three dimensions. This is important because technology, and particularly sensing, computing, and networking technologies play a much greater role in naval warfare than in land warfare, and their capabilities have exploded with the relentless march forward of electronics since 1945, a march that sharply accelerated with the revolution in solid state electronics.