Cover: Characterizing and Exploring the Implications of Maritime Irregular Warfare

Characterizing and Exploring the Implications of Maritime Irregular Warfare

Published Feb 20, 2012

by Molly Dunigan, Dick Hoffmann, Peter Chalk, Brian Nichiporuk, Paul DeLuca


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The concept of irregular warfare has figured prominently in U.S. military doctrine and strategy, particularly over the past decade. Although irregular warfare includes a range of land-, air-, and maritime-based activities in which naval forces have played an integral role, there has been little examination of the operational and tactical characteristics or the strategic potential of such operations in maritime environments. An assessment of the maritime component of a series of historical and ongoing counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, unconventional warfare, and counterpiracy operations reveals that current notions of irregular warfare would benefit from increased recognition of the requirements and opportunities inherent in maritime contributions to campaigns. Specifically, the research shows that, in environments with a maritime component, maritime operations can have a noticeable comparative advantage over land-based operations in terms of mobility and often involve a smaller or less visible footprint in a host nation. A revised definition of maritime irregular warfare, like the one proposed here, must take into account the types of activities in which naval forces engage and the required level of involvement with the local population in the area of operations. Such considerations can serve to inform future U.S. force structure investments and doctrine in ways that have the potential to enhance both U.S. maritime operations and U.S. irregular warfare operations more generally.

The research described in this report was prepared for the United States Navy. The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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