Green-water navy

Green-water navy is terminology created to describe a naval force that is designed to operate in its nation's littoral zones and has the competency to operate in the open oceans of its surrounding region.[1] It is a relatively new term, and has been created to better distinguish, and add nuance, between two long-standing descriptors: blue-water navy and brown-water navy.

It is a non-doctrinal naval term used in different ways. It originates with the United States Navy, who use it to refer to the portion of their fleet that specializes in offensive operations in coastal waters. Nowadays such ships rely on stealth or speed to avoid destruction by shore batteries or land-based aircraft.

The US Navy has also used the term to refer to the first phase of the expansion of China's navy into a full blue-water navy. Subsequently, other authors have applied it to other national navies that can project power locally, but cannot sustain operations at range without the help of other countries. Such navies typically have amphibious ships and sometimes small aircraft carriers, which can be escorted by destroyers and frigates with some logistical support from tankers and other auxiliaries.

USS Independence (LCS-2) at Naval Air Station Key West on 29 March 2010 (100329-N-1481K-298)
The littoral combat ship USS Independence was designed for green-water operations


The elements of maritime geography are loosely defined and their meanings have changed throughout history. The US's 2010 Naval Operations Concept defines blue water as "the open ocean", green water as "coastal waters, ports and harbors", and brown water as "navigable rivers and their estuaries".[2] Robert Rubel of the US Naval War College includes bays in his definition of brown water,[3] and in the past US military commentators have extended brown water out to 100 nautical miles (190 km) from shore.[4]

During the Cold War, green water denoted those areas of ocean in which naval forces might encounter land-based aircraft.[3] The development of long-range bombers with anti-ship missiles turned most of the oceans to "green" and the term all but disappeared.[3] After the Cold War, US amphibious task forces were sometimes referred to as the green-water navy, in contrast to the blue-water carrier battle groups.[5] This distinction disappeared as increasing threats in coastal waters forced the amphibious ships further offshore, delivering assaults by helicopter and tiltrotor from over the horizon. This prompted the development of ships designed to operate in such waters – the Zumwalt-class destroyer and the littoral combat ships; modelling has suggested that current NATO frigates are vulnerable to swarms of 4-8 small boats in green water.[6] Rubel has proposed redefining green water as those areas of ocean which are too dangerous for high-value units, requiring offensive power to be dispersed into smaller vessels such as submarines that can use stealth and other characteristics to survive.[3] Under his scheme, brown water would be zones in which ocean-going units could not operate at all, including rivers, minefields, straits and other choke points.[3]

As the preeminent blue-water navy of the early 21st century, the US Navy is able to define maritime geography in terms of offensive action in the home waters of its enemies, without being constrained by logistics. This is not true for most other navies, whose supply chains and air cover typically limit them to power projection within a few hundred kilometres of home territory. A number of countries are working on overcoming these constraints. Other authors have started to apply the term "green-water navy" to any national navy that has ocean-going ships but lacks the logistical support needed for a blue-water navy. It's often not clear what they mean, as the term is used without consistency or precision.

A green-water navy does not mean that the individual ships of the fleet are unable to function away from the coast or in open ocean, instead it suggests that due to logistical reasons they are unable to be deployed for lengthy periods, and must have aid from other countries to sustain long term deployments. Also the term "green-water navy" is subjective as numerous countries that do not have a true green-water navy maintain naval forces that are on par with countries that are recognized as having green-water navies. For example, the German Navy has near the same capability as the Canadian Navy but is not recognized as a true green-water navy. Another example is the Portuguese Navy that, despite being usually classified as a minor navy, has several times conducted sustained operations in faraway regions typical of the green-water navies. However, the differences between blue-water navies and brown or green-water navies is usually quite noticeable, for example the US Navy was able to quickly respond to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and continue operations in the region with relative ease even though the search area covered the Indian Ocean. On the contrary, in 2005 the then green-water navy such the Russian Navy was unable to properly respond when its AS-28 rescue vehicle became tangled in undersea cables unable to surface, relying on the blue-water Royal Navy to respond and carry out the rescue in time.[7]

Just as nations build up naval capability, some lose it. For example, the Austro-Hungarian Navy was a modern green water navy of the time, but as the countries lost their coasts during World War I, their navies were confiscated and their ports became parts of Italy and Yugoslavia. The Axis powers lost naval capabilities after their defeat in World War II, with most of Japan's Imperial Navy and Germany's Navy being disarmed and their troop and ship numbers capped and monitored by the Allies. The collapse of the USSR also brought with it the collapse of the second largest naval force in the world, and the largest submarine force in the world. Although the Russian Federation made sure to inherit the most capable ships, passing most older models to successor states, as it had lost the logistical capabilities of the Soviet Navy, it was no longer able to operate away from Russian shores for extended periods of time. Moreover, budget cuts forced large cuts in the submarine force, such as the retirements of the Typhoon-class submarine. As the Soviet Navy was built largely around submarine warfare the losses in the submarine capability have adversely affected the capability of the newly formed Russian Navy as well.

Examples of green-water navies


The Royal Australian Navy is well established as a green-water navy.[8][9] The navy sustains a broad range of maritime operations, from the Middle East to the Pacific Ocean, often as part of international or allied coalitions.[10] The RAN operates a modern fleet, consisting of destroyers, frigates, conventional submarines as well as an emerging amphibious and power projection capability based on the commissioning of HMAS Choules and two Canberra-class landing helicopter docks.[11]


The Brazilian Navy has frequently been dubbed a "green-water" force by experts.[12] The navy is primarily focused on securing the nation's littorals and exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but also maintains the capacity to operate in the wider South Atlantic Ocean. Since the early 2000s, the Brazilian Navy has contributed to a number of peacekeeping and humanitarian missions.


According to the criteria as outlined in the 2001 publication, "Leadmark: The Navy’s Strategy for 2020", the Royal Canadian Navy had met its description of a 3rd tier "Medium Global Force Projection Navy" - a green-water navy with the capacity to project force worldwide with the aid of more powerful maritime allies (e.g. United Kingdom, France and the United States).[9] In this context, the Royal Canadian Navy ranked itself alongside the navies of Australia and the Netherlands.[9]


Missile boat Pori South Harbor 1
Hamina-class missile boat Pori, designed for operations in the shallow waters of the Finnish territorial waters riddled with skerries

The Finnish Navy, having been given the daunting task of protecting the often shallow territorial waters of Finland riddled with skerries, along with the somewhat recently added task of providing ships for international operations led by the EU, focuses on its ability to operate in shallow waters while retaining some blue-water capabilities for the larger vessels such as the decommissioned minelayer Pohjanmaa, to-be decommissioned Hämeenmaa-class minelayers and the future Pohjanmaa-class corvettes.

Pollution control vessels Louhi, Halli and Hylje, although owned by Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), are operated by the Navy & provide logistical support and sea cable laying for the Navy as well as act as mother ships for diving operations.


Cavour (550)
The aircraft carrier Cavour

The Italian Navy has been categorised as a "regional blue-water navy" in Liu Huaqing's Memoirs (1994),[13] and as a "multi/extra regional power projection navy" by Professors Daniel Todd and Michael Lindberg.[14] In the 1989 publication "The Atlantic Alliance and the Middle East", Joseph I. Coffey asserts that Italy's blue-water capabilities do not extend beyond the Mediterranean sea.[15] Today, the navy possesses two light aircraft carriers (Cavour and Giuseppe Garibaldi) as well as a modern fleet of surface combatants and submarines. The Marina Militare routinely deploys to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf as part of multinational anti-piracy missions such as Operation Ocean Shield and Operation Atalanta,[16] and is capable of deploying a carrier battle group in support of NATO or EU operations; such as during Operation Enduring Freedom (2001) and EU Navfor Med (European migrant crisis).

  • Carrier capability – 27,910-tonne Cavour and the 13,850-tonne Giuseppe Garibaldi.
  • Amphibious capability – three 8,000-tonne San Giorgio-class LPDs.
  • Replenishment capability – 13,400-tonne Etna and two 8,000-tonne Stromboli-class replenishment ships.

South Korea

The Republic of Korea Navy is considered to be a green-water navy.[8] In 2011, the government authorized the building of a naval base on Jeju Island to support the new Dokdo-class amphibious assault ships, the base will also be capable of supporting joint forces with the US Navy.[17] A ski-jump for the operation of V/STOL jet fighters is being considered for the second ship of the Dokdo class.[18] The Korean government is considering to buy surplus Harriers as a possible interim for the F-35 Lightning II if they choose to operate VTOL aircraft at all.[19]

  • Helicopter carrier capability - two 18,800 tonne Dokdo-class amphibious assault ships
  • Amphibious capability – four 4,300 tonne Go Jun Bong-class LSTs, and three 7,300 tonne Cheon Wang Bong-class LSTs, with more launched.
  • Replenishment capability – three 9,180 tonne Cheonji-class replenishment ships and a 23,000 tonne Soyang-class replenishment ship


The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force is considered to be a green-water navy.[8] Overseas JMSDF deployments include participation in the Combined Task Force 150,[20][21] and an additional task force in the Indian Ocean from 2009 to combat piracy in Somalia. The first postwar overseas naval air facility of Japan was established next to Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport.[22]

The Netherlands

The Royal Netherlands Navy has been officially described as a 3rd tier "Medium Global Force Projection Navy" - or a green-water navy with the capacity to project force worldwide with the aid of more powerful maritime allies (e.g. Britain, France and the United States).[9] In this context, the Royal Netherlands Navy ranks alongside the navies of Australia and Canada, while the USN is a 1st tier global blue-water navy and Britain and France are 2nd tier blue-water navies.[9] For many years since the end of the Cold War, the Royal Netherlands Navy has been changing its role from national defence to overseas intervention.[23]


The Spanish Navy is a green-water navy, and participates in joint operations with NATO and European allies around the world.[24] The fleet has 54 commissioned ships, including; one amphibious assault ship (also used as an aircraft carrier), two amphibious transport docks, 5 AEGIS destroyers (5 more under construction), 6 frigates, 7 corvettes (2 more under construction) and three conventional submarines. (4 under construction)

See also


  1. ^ Bratton, Patrick C (2012). Sea Power and the Asia-Pacific. London, United Kingdom: Routledge. ISBN 1-136-62724-3.
  2. ^ "Naval Operations Concept 2010 – Implementing the Maritime Strategy" (pdf). US Naval Service. p. 16. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e Rubel, Robert C. (Autumn 2010), "Talking About Sea Control" (PDF), Naval War College Review, 63 (4): 44–46
  4. ^ Burkitt, Laurie; Scobell, Andrew; Wortzel, Larry M. (July 2003). "The Lessons of History : The Chinese People's Liberation Army at 75" (pdf). Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College. p. 185. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  5. ^ Gillespie, T.C.; Lesher, S.M.; Miner, P.D.; Cyr, B.P. (23 March 1992), Composite Warfare and The Amphibians (pdf), Marine Corps University, pp. 9–24, retrieved 7 May 2012
  6. ^ Abel, Heiko (September 2009). "Frigate Defense Effectiveness in Asymmetrical Green Water Engagements". Naval Postgraduate School. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  7. ^ "Russian submarine surfaces with entire crew alive". Associated Press. 6 August 2005. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  8. ^ a b c Till, Geoffrey (15 August 2013). Naval Modernisation in South-East Asia: Nature, Causes and Consequences. London: Routledge. p. 267. ISBN 1-135-95394-5.
  9. ^ a b c d e Leadmark: The Navy’s Strategy for 2020, Directorate of Maritime Strategy, Department of National Defence
  10. ^ "Operations". Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  11. ^ "Canberra commissioning marks new era in ADF amphibious warfare". Australian Aviation. 28 November 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  12. ^ Pryce, Paul (19 January 2015). "The Brazilian Navy: Green Water or Blue?". Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  13. ^ The Chinese Navy: Expanding Capabilities, Evolving Roles?, 2012 (Footnote no. 16, page 139)
  14. ^ Todd, Daniel; Lindberg, Michael (1996). Navies and Shipbuilding Industries: The Strained Symbiosis. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 56–57. ISBN 9780275953102. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  15. ^ Coffey, Joseph I. (1989). The Atlantic Alliance and the Middle East. United States: University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 89. ISBN 9780822911548. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  16. ^ Marina Militaire – Operations,, (In Italian)
  17. ^ Sang-Hun, Choe (18 August 2011). "South Korean Navy Base Divides Jeju Island Residents". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  18. ^ Sung Ki, Jung (26 October 2013). "S. Korea Envisions Light Aircraft Carrier". Archived from the original on 26 October 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  19. ^ "Dokdo Class Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH)". Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  20. ^ Japan Ministry of Defense. "Activities based on Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law (December 2001 – October 2007) – Replenishment Operations". Retrieved 2013-05-06.
  21. ^ Asahi Shimbun. "Japan's New Blue Water Navy: A Four-year Indian Ocean mission recasts the Constitution and the US-Japan alliance". Retrieved 2013-05-06.
  22. ^ Japan Ministry of Defense. "MOD/JSDF ANSWERS – Anti-Piracy Efforts". Archived from the original on 2013-01-08. Retrieved 2012-11-16.
  23. ^ Warship 2006, Conway's Maritime Press – World Navies in Review 2006)
  24. ^ "Rayo Joins EU Naval Force Operation Atalanta". 10 December 2014. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
Amenities ship

An amenities ship is a ship outfitted with recreational facilities as part of a mobile naval base. Amenities ships included movie theaters and canteens staffed by mercantile crews of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary service. These ships were intended to provide a place where British Pacific Fleet personnel could relax between operations.

Blue-water navy

A blue-water navy is a maritime force capable of operating globally, essentially across the deep waters of open oceans. While definitions of what actually constitutes such a force vary, there is a requirement for the ability to exercise sea control at wide ranges.

The term "blue-water navy" is a maritime geographical term in contrast with "brown-water navy" and "green-water navy".

The Defense Security Service of the United States has defined the blue-water navy as "a maritime force capable of sustained operation across the deep waters of open oceans. A blue-water navy allows a country to project power far from the home country and usually includes one or more aircraft carriers. Smaller blue-water navies are able to dispatch fewer vessels abroad for shorter periods of time."

Brown-water navy

The term brown-water navy or riverine warfare refers in its broadest sense to any naval force capable of military operations in river or littoral environments, especially those carrying heavy sediment loads from soil runoff or flooding. It originated in the United States Navy during the American Civil War, when it referred to Union forces patrolling the muddy Mississippi River, and has since been used to describe the small gunboats and patrol boats commonly used in rivers, along with the larger "mother ships" that supported them. These mother ships include converted World War II-era LCMs and LSTs, among other vessels.

Brown-water navies are contrasted with seaworthy blue-water navies, which can independently conduct operations in open ocean. Green-water navies are the bridge between brown-water navies and blue-water navies.

Coastal submarine

A coastal submarine or littoral submarine is a small, maneuverable submarine with shallow draft well suited to navigation of coastal channels and harbors. Although size is not precisely defined, coastal submarines are larger than midget submarines, but smaller than sea-going submarines designed for longer patrols on the open ocean. Space limitations aboard coastal submarines restrict fuel availability for distant travel, food availability for extended patrol duration, and number of weapons carried. Within those limitations, however, coastal submarines may be able to reach areas inaccessible to larger submarines, and be more difficult to detect.

Frigate navy

Frigate navy is a term describing a nation state's navy that is made of mostly frigates or destroyers as a major combat force. This navy would thus be lacking large vessels such as cruisers, a significant number of effective submarines, or aircraft carriers, but it would also be more effective and deployable than a navy that just maintains corvettes or gunboats. A frigate navy can be a green water navy or a brown water navy, depending on how logistics are structured. The Royal Netherlands Navy is an example of a frigate navy, as was the U.S. Navy in the War of 1812.

General stores issue ship

General stores issue ship is a type of ship used by the United States Navy during World War II and for some time afterwards.

The task of the general stores issue ship was to sail into non-combat, or rear, areas and disburse general stores, such as canned goods, toilet paper, office supplies, etc., to ships and stations.

Guard ship

A guard ship is a warship assigned as a stationary guard in a port or harbour, as opposed to a coastal patrol boat which serves its protective role at sea.

Islamic Republic of Iran Navy

The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (Persian: نیروی دریایی ارتش جمهوری اسلامی ایران‎) acronymed NEDAJA (Persian: نداجا‎), is the naval warfare service branch of Iran's regular military, the Islamic Republic of Iran Army (Artesh).It is charged with the responsibility of forming Iran's first line of defense in the Gulf of Oman and beyond with the mission of acting as an effective blue-water navy. However, it is generally considered as a conventional green-water navy as it mostly operates at a regional level, in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman but also as far afield as the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and northwest quarter of the Indian Ocean. In July 2016, the Navy said that it would establish a presence in the Atlantic Ocean, of unspecified duration.One of Iran's two maritime military branches alongside the IRGC Navy, it overlaps functions and areas of responsibility with the other navy, but they are distinct in terms of military strategy and equipment. In contrast to the IRGC Navy, which is equipped with small fast-attack crafts, the backbone of the Artesh navy's inventory consists of larger surface ships, including frigates and corvettes, and submarines.

Light aircraft carrier

A light aircraft carrier, or light fleet carrier, is an aircraft carrier that is smaller than the standard carriers of a navy. The precise definition of the type varies by country; light carriers typically have a complement of aircraft only one-half to two-thirds the size of a full-sized fleet carrier. A light carrier was similar in concept to an escort carrier in most respects, however light carriers were intended for higher speeds to be deployed alongside fleet carriers, while escort carriers usually defended convoys and provided air support during amphibious operations.

Maritime geography

Maritime geography is often discussed in terms of three loosely defined regions: brown water, green water, and blue water.

Mine countermeasures vessel

A mine countermeasures vessel or MCMV is a type of naval ship designed for the location of and destruction of naval mines which combines the role of a minesweeper and minehunter in one hull. The term MCMV is also applied collectively to minehunters and minesweepers.


A minehunter is a naval vessel that seeks, detects, and destroys individual naval mines. Minesweepers, on the other hand, clear mined areas as a whole, without prior detection of mines. A vessel that combines both of these roles is known as a mine countermeasures vessel (MCMV).

Natsushio-class submarine

The Natsushio-class submarines were significantly smaller than the next generation Japanese submarines, Ōshio, and the Natsushio-class submarines were the development of the Hayashio-class submarines. Also, the Natsushio class is one of the (coast-defence) hunter-killer submarine (SSK) of JMSDF. Construction of the two subs in the class was approved under the First Defense Buildup Program 1958-1960. However, the MSDF brass did not welcome the small submarines. Ongoing maneuvering regarding defense spending by the Ministry of Finance did not help matters. At the time, the Maritime Staff Office was trying to move the MSDF away from being a predominantly green-water navy (due to politics and budgetary issues this would not begin to happen until the 1980s). Small coastal SSKs like the Natsushio did not fit into such plans for the future. Therefore, neither further examples nor a successor class were built.


A navy or maritime force is the branch of a nation's armed forces principally designated for naval and amphibious warfare; namely, lake-borne, riverine, littoral, or ocean-borne combat operations and related functions. It includes anything conducted by surface ships, amphibious ships, submarines, and seaborne aviation, as well as ancillary support, communications, training, and other fields. The strategic offensive role of a navy is projection of force into areas beyond a country's shores (for example, to protect sea-lanes, deter or confront pirates, ferry troops, or attack other navies, ports, or shore installations). The strategic defensive purpose of a navy is to frustrate seaborne projection-of-force by enemies. The strategic task of the navy also may incorporate nuclear deterrence by use of submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Naval operations can be broadly divided between riverine and littoral applications (brown-water navy), open-ocean applications (blue-water navy), and something in between (green-water navy), although these distinctions are more about strategic scope than tactical or operational division.

In most nations, the term "naval", as opposed to "navy", is interpreted as encompassing all maritime military forces, e.g., navy, naval infantry/marine corps, and coast guard forces.

Ocean boarding vessel

Ocean boarding vessels (OBVs) were merchant ships taken over by the Royal Navy for the purpose of enforcing wartime blockades by intercepting and boarding foreign vessels.

People's Liberation Army Navy

The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN; Chinese: 中国人民解放军海军), also known as the PLA Navy, is the naval warfare branch of the People's Liberation Army, which is the armed wing of the Communist Party of China and, by default, the national armed forces of the People's Republic of China. The PLAN can trace its lineage to naval units fighting during the Chinese Civil War and was established in September 1950. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, the Soviet Union provided assistance to the PLAN in the form of naval advisers and export of equipment and technology. Until the late 1980s, the PLAN was largely a riverine and littoral force (brown-water navy). However, by the 1990s, following the fall of the Soviet Union and a shift towards a more forward-oriented foreign and security policy, the leaders of the Chinese military were freed from worrying over land border disputes, and instead turned their attention towards the seas. This led to the development of the People's Liberation Army Navy into a green-water navy by 2009. Before the 1990s the PLAN had traditionally played a subordinate role to the People's Liberation Army Ground Force.

In 2008, General Qian Lihua confirmed that China plans to operate a small fleet of aircraft carriers in the near future, but for the purpose of regional defence as opposed to "global reach". As of 2013 PLA officials have also outlined plans to operate in the first and second island chains. Chinese strategists term the development of the PLAN from a green-water navy into "a regional blue-water defensive and offensive navy."The People's Liberation Army Navy is composed of five branches; the Submarine Force, the Surface Force, the Coastal Defense Force, the Marine Corps and the Naval Air Force. With a personnel strength of 255,000 servicemen and women, including 10,000 marines and 26,000 naval air force personnel, it is the second largest navy in the world in terms of tonnage, only behind the United States Navy, and has the largest number of major combatants of any navy.

Power projection

Power projection (or force projection) is a term used in military and political science to refer to the capacity of a state to deploy and sustain forces outside its territory.This ability is a crucial element of a state's power in international relations. Any state able to direct its military forces outside its territory might be said to have some level of power projection capability, but the term itself is used most frequently in reference to militaries with a worldwide reach (or at least significantly broader than a state's immediate area). Even states with sizable hard power assets (such as a large standing army) may only be able to exert limited regional influence so long as they lack the means of effectively projecting their power on a global scale. Generally, only a select few states are able to overcome the logistical difficulties inherent in the deployment and direction of a modern, mechanized military force.

While traditional measures of power projection typically focus on hard power assets (tanks, soldiers, aircraft, naval vessels, etc.), the developing theory of soft power notes that power projection does not necessarily have to involve the active use of military forces in combat. Assets for power projection can often serve dual uses, as the deployment of various countries' militaries during the humanitarian response to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake illustrates. The ability of a state to project its forces into an area may serve as an effective diplomatic lever, influencing the decision-making process and acting as a potential deterrent on other states' behavior.

Repair ship

A repair ship is a naval auxiliary ship designed to provide maintenance support to warships. Repair ships provide similar services to destroyer, submarine and seaplane tenders or depot ships, but may offer a broader range of repair capability including equipment and personnel for repair of more significant machinery failures or battle damage.

Submarine tender

A submarine tender is a type of depot ship that supplies and supports submarines.

Aircraft carriers
Patrol craft
Fast attack craft
Mine warfare
Command and support


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