Navy stakeholders assess lessons learned from conflict in Ukraine for future war at sea

Ships from several NATO nations including Italy, Spain, Germany and the United States, participate in Exercise Mare Aperto 22-2, a high-end exercise sponsored by the Italian Navy aimed at strengthen and improve the combat readiness of participating assets in the conduct of maritime operations. US NAVY / Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ezekiel Duran

PARIS — Naval actors continue to learn lessons from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and consider the implications of those lessons for future naval warfare.

In workshops given during the Euronaval 2022 exposition in Paris, France, in mid-October, navies and the naval industry discussed lessons ranging from strategic contexts to operational and technological contexts.

Captain Yann Briand, a French naval officer serving as head of the strategic policy branch in the French defense ministry, laid out several lessons France is learning from the war in Ukraine.

“The first is that it recalls the fundamentals of naval combat at sea, which is violence, speed and attrition,” Briand said. Second, he pointed to the broader strategic context of the “central role of nuclear deterrence” in the crisis.

“Another point, which is not specific to the French Navy, but the same for all navies in the world, is that we are in close contact with our competitors,” Briand said. In other words, he continued, “at sea there is the possibility of sending different political messages in very subtle ways.”

“You’re using fire-control radar, you’re getting really close to another ship: all of that is something you can do at sea and you can’t do on land,” he added.

This process works through professional approaches from all sides, he said. However, he noted, instability persists.

Finally, Briand said, “Alliances and partnerships are more than helpful as nations and their navies cannot meet all of these challenges on their own.

Lessons learned also point to a broader shift in the nature of security.

“For the past 30 years, the stability of France and Europe has been based on laws, regulations and treaties; now it’s more based unfortunately on physical defense – weapons, fighters, aircraft carriers,” Briand said.

Richard Keulen, a former Royal Netherlands Navy officer and frigate commander and now director of the Naval Sales Support division of Dutch shipbuilding company Damen, reflected this perspective.

“The Baltic and the Black Sea show us that Europe is bordered by important and disputed waters. Europe depends for its prosperity and freedom to maneuver on a mare librum, also in the Mediterranean, in the wider Atlantic and even in the waters east of Suez.

“So innovation in defense is hugely important, as the war in Ukraine, for example, clearly demonstrates,” Keulen said. “We have seen the pictures.”

“We have seen the extensive use of drones. We saw the sinking of the [Russian Slava-class cruiser] Moscow. We have also seen the extension in northern waters of hybrid warfare to the seabed.

In the Baltic Sea, the two Nordstream gas pipelines recently suffered ruptures, although the cause of the ruptures has not been publicly confirmed. Such incidents have raised regional concerns about the security of maritime lines of communication, including on the seabed.

“This latest phenomenon, for example, is causing concern and awareness in the Netherlands and neighboring countries in the North Sea region around Europe’s busiest waters,” Keulen said.


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