Friday, January 4, 2013

Deterrence and Bluff

One of the historical justifications for naval forces is their use as a deterrence to would be troublemakers.  A battleship or carrier group parked off one’s shore has had a calming effect on various hotspots over the years.  Why does this work?  It’s effective because of the visible power and the implied threat to use that power.  Thus, we see that deterrence is dependent on certain factors such as,

  • Visibility
  • Proximity
  • Power
  • Reputation

Visibility is vital and is the reason that submarines make poor deterrents.  The deterring force must be readily “seen” by the target.

Proximity is obvious.  The deterring force must be in range to apply the power, if needed.  Having forces stationed at some far away, remote location doesn’t constitute a threat.  Some have argued that all we need to do is keep our forces at home bases but able to surge if needed.  That may be fine once a conflict has started but only proximity provides the imminent threat that might calm a situation. 

Power is the ability to apply pain that causes miscreants to pause and reconsider.  This is why the LCS, for instance, will never be a deterrent.  No one is afraid of the LCS because it has no ability to apply pain.

Finally, reputation means that at some point in the past you have to have actually spanked someone so that everyone believes you may do so again.  If every hotspot is met with a strict policy of military inaction, eventually your reputation fades and no one believes that you’ll use whatever force you have. 

If the conditions for effective deterrence are not met, then the hoped for deterrence becomes a simple bluff and one that is easily seen for what it is.  Unfortunately, the Navy is steadily decreasing the number of carrier groups, decreasing the combat fleet size, and is committed to building 55 non-combat LCS’s to take the place of combat ships.  We have ever fewer ships available for missions of deterrence and the forces we have are growing steadily weaker.  Where are the future deterrent forces going to come from?  The Navy is slowly losing its ability to influence regional bad guys.

Consider the Navy’s plan to forward deploy LCS’s to Singapore.  Does anyone seriously believe that an LCS is going to influence any of the actors in the region?


  1. Vessels like the LCS or a frigate will provide the deterence needed.


    You must have shown that any attack leads to a unstoppable amount of force leading to the utter annhilation or anyone who attacks said ships, fleet, or Nation.

    The US has lost the will to win unconditionaly. In short......FEAR.

    1. Given what I wrote in my post, how does an LCS provide deterrence?

    2. Oh no i agree with you 90%.

      A nation has 2 options.

      1) Make a in your face show of power through very powerful units or shows of force.


      2) Show simply the flag and let it be know that anything that carries that flag is sacred and wont be attacked. If it is your people/nation Will Die.

      The US wont do the second. The US cant get away with the first.

      LCS is simply a failure as it is neither. Its a f**k up the Navy simply cant admit to.

    3. James,

      I get the impression that you're focused more on the "bait in the trap" type of approach to deterrence which assumes that someone is threatening US assets. While possible, the more common historical use for deterrence has been attempting to influence behavior that is not directly threatening to the US. For example, China shooting missiles near Taiwan as an "exercise", or NKorea launching test missiles, or Libyan civil war, or Iran threatening to close the Straits, or Syria killing its own people, etc. In none of these cases would the target have any interest in directly attacking US warships; there would be no reason to. So, the LCS would not work as bait-deterrence. However, a carrier group parked offshore could influence matters because a strike could be launched. NKorea wouldn't want to risk a strike just to test missiles, according to the theory of deterrence. The LCS, because it can't launch any kind of attack, fails as a deterrent threat in these, more common, types of scenarios.

      Your 2nd point is quite valid and there are several historical examples of US military assets being directly attacked with no response from the US. The Pueblo and the Chinese force-down and capture of our intelligence plane a few years back are good examples. Each was an out-and-out act of war and yet we did nothing.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    4. James,

      One further point. Don't misunderstand what I've said in the post. I'm not suggesting that the US correctly performs deterrence. Our record is pretty hit-and-miss about attempting deterrence and equally spotty on our ability to successfully carry it out. My post was a theoretical description of the elements necessary to apply deterrence and was prompted by statements from the Navy suggesting that the forward deployment of the LCS would have a deterring effect in the Pacific/Chinese region. As I point out, the attempted use of the LCS as a deterrent threat is utter nonsense since it is incapable of strike operations.

    5. Im Agreeing with you. I'm saying the problem for the US with its current messed up ideals is this.

      No one believes that if they hurt US citizens or personel the US will risk a major war.

      No baiting. Simply if the US was respected the way it should be no one would attack our ships because the consequences would be so severe that no gain could be had.

      The US needs w things in reguards to the LCS.

      1) Stop building them.

      2) Just build frigates which is what we need.

      The US also needs to show a foreign policy that makes it clear the US wont back down from a fight and when we go to war we will do everything in our power to win.

      Believe me i agree with you the idea that the LCS is going to stop a squadron of Chinese FAC's. is idiocy.


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