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The U.S. Sea Control Mission: Forces, Capabilities, and Requirements

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Background paper

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The Department of Defense DoD views a war in Europe between NATO and the Warsaw Pact as the most demanding scenario for its forward strategy. The sea control mission is a critical element of that forward strategy, particularly if the war were fought over an extended period of time. Sealanes to Europe would have to be defended against possible Soviet air, surface, and submarine attacks if timely and sufficient supplies were to reach our Allies and our forces deployed there. Traditionally, requirements for accomplishing the sea control mission have been expressed primarily as naval force goals. However, technological change and the geographic position of our Allies vis-a-vis the Soviet Union would make it possible for land-based units to play a significant role in key aspects of the sea control effort. The potential for a land-based contribution is especially evident with respect to the defense of the Atlantic sea lanes against the Soviet bomber threat. Soviet aviation might represent the most significant immediate potential threat to those sea lanes. Its major route to the North Atlantic from Soviet bases would likely skirt Norway and cross the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom gap. The gap provides a natural geographic barrier for the early detection and interdiction of hostile Soviet aircraft. Land-based systems, in Norway, Britain and Iceland, could provide some early warning and interdiction capability against Soviet aviation. The proximity of Norwegian air bases to Soviet territory renders them vulnerable to surprise attacks and even seizure, U.S. early warning and interceptor forces in Iceland are obsolescent and provide little real capability against modern Soviet aircraft. The vulnerability of Atlantic shipping to Soviet air attack would be compounded by uncertainties about the warning time available to the Allies before the start of hostilities.

Subject Categories:

  • Defense Systems
  • Naval Surface Warfare
  • Undersea and Antisubmarine Warfare

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