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Naval warfare is divided into three operational areas: surface warfare, air warfare and submarine warfare. Each area is comprised of specialized platforms and strategies used to exploit tactical advantages unique and inherent to that area.
Modern surface warfare dates from the mid 20th century, when surface, air, and submarine warfare components were blended together as a tactical unit to achieve strategic objectives. The two most important strategic objectives are interdiction and sea control. Interdiction is the process of preventing enemy forces access to or through a location, for example: German naval objectives against Britain in World War II were primarily focused on preventing ships arriving intact with their cargos. Sea control is the dominance of force over a given area that prevents other naval forces from operating successfully, for example: the mission of the allied navies in the Atlantic during World War II was to maintain sea control and prevent axis naval forces from operating.
When people think of naval vessels, they usually think of surface ships, such as: battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and others. Surface combatants also include mine warfare ships, amphibious command ships, coastal defense craft, amphibious assault craft, and many others. An important facet of naval warfare are the support ships: freighters, oilers, hospital ships, tugs, troop transports, and others.
The history of naval warfare is the history of surface warfare. Until the advent of useful submarines and aircraft, all naval actions were conducted with surface ships. In ages past, most naval actions occurred to transport armies or army supplies from one place to another. Very few seafaring nations developed specialized ships designed to attack other ships underway until the advent of artillery and naval guns.
With the advent of naval guns, it became possible to transport a significant battery of guns to a variety of locations and deploy them against enemies who could not transfer land-based guns to counter this mobile threat. Naval warfare, for the next 300 years, was devoted to the development of better guns.
With the advent of the steamship, it became possible to create really massive gun platforms and to provide them with very serious armor protection. The Dreadnought battleships and their successors were the first heavy capital ships that combined technology and firepower into a mobile weapons platform. However, in the first half of the 20th century, naval strategists and planners failed to take into account the effect of airpower on the effectiveness and useability of large capital ships, such as battleships.
In the second half of the 20th century, the importance of naval surface power was reduced as air a submarine warfare platforms demonstrated their capabilities. In the 21st century, it has been clearly demonstrated that a modern naval force must be composed of all three platforms (surface, submarine, and air) to be effective in projecting naval power and maintaining sea control.
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