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Fleet in Being

A Fleet in Being is a fleet that avoids decisive action, but, because of its strength and location, causes or necessitates counter-concentrations and so reduces the number of opposing units available for operations elsewhere. Naval forces can achieve effect and influence in various ways. Mahan's concept of a "fleet in being," is a force or capability that cannot be ignored by observers and whose very existence shapes what the observers do. Mahan, among many naval strategists, saw the threat of a direct attack to destroy a state's navy and its other means of defense, to impose an economic blockade, or to launch an invasion as the basis for naval power and strategy. The corollary was the notion of the superior fleet in being, with the implicit and potential power to bombard, invade, and inflict substantial damage on an adversary, thereby deterring or preventing specific actions by that adversary.

The fleet-in-being principle has been adopted by small nations in confrontations with great powers. The idea of such a fleet is simple: keep a viable fighting force together and occupy enemy assets with the threat of a sortie. Since this force can choose the time and place of attack, its enemy must keep an equal or superior force in battle position continually as a counterweight. Considering the need to rest and refit this masking force, an enemy can tie up a force twice its size. This has made the fleet-in-being a favorite strategy of weak naval forces for centuries.

The first execution of the "fleet in being" concept is attributed to Arthur Herbert, Earl of Torrington (1647-1716). The term was first used in 1690, when Lord Torrington, commander of the Royal Navy (additional info and facts about Royal Navy) forces in the English Channel (An arm of the Atlantic Ocean that forms a channel between France and Britain) , found himself facing a stronger French fleet. He proposed avoiding a set battle, except under very favourable conditions, until he could be reinforced. By thus keeping his 'fleet in being', he could maintain an active threat which would force the enemy to remain in the area and prevent them from taking the initiative elsewhere.

An important variation of the concept of sea denial is that of the force in being, a term derived from the historical concept of the fleet in being. By avoiding a head-on confrontation with a larger force and preserving its maritime strength, the weaker power may limit the capabilities of the stronger power by forcing the latter to divert its own forces to contain the force in being, or to provide additional protection for its vulnerabilities.

The concept of the "fleet in being" was important to the German and British maritime strategies leading up to World War I. Essentially, the German strategy was to tie down the British navy near the English Channel by leaving German battleships in port. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz's "risk fleet" was not intended to challenge the Royal Navy all around the globe. Germany sought to challenge the British navy specifically in the North Sea.

To accomplish German global ambitions, Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz formulated the Risk Fleet theory of constructing a fleet of sixty capital ships, equivalent to two-thirds the size of the Royal Navy, to challenge the latter's Two-Power Standard. The Royal Navy, in order to maintain its naval superiority based on its Two-Power Standard, would need to build ninety vessels. However, due to British imperial commitments, her fleet would be dispersed throughout her far-flung empire. In contrast, the Imperial German Navy would be concentrated in the North Sea. It not only enjoyed local superiority, but could also threaten the British Isles directly.

The four year stand-off in the North Sea in the First World War is one of the most important examples of the 'fleet in being'. The threat posed by the High Seas Fleet forced the British to put much of their naval strength into the Grand Fleet, preventing it from being employed to support offensive operations elsewhere or, in the case of cruisers and light forces, in the protection of shipping against the emerging U-Boat threat. With the British navy largely tied up in home waters defending against the German "fleet in being," German submarines were free to attack British shipping with relative impunity. The battle cruiser Australia (I) and the light cruisers Sydney (I) and Melbourne (I) joined units of the Royal Navy in their long watch over the North Sea.

The weakness of the fleet-in-being is that minor fleets cannot control the seas. A nation that needs to use the seas must fight whenever it is challenged.

A "fleet in being" would become an unavoidable part of a local security calculus, the player whose intervention would change the entire risks-gains assessment in any given situation. At its most basic level, it would be represented by all of the challenges to local stability that would not be made even though potential local challengers might otherwise have had the capability and will to do so. Because the fleet in being was there and able to intervene, neither the capabilities nor the strategy that they were to support could have failed. Forward-presence forces are examples of forces whose very existence becomes part of a local security calculus.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:24:10 Zulu