The Untold Story of the Royal Navy Task Force Group off Libya in 2011
Rear Adm. John Kingwell CBE
Casemate, Havertown, Pennsylvania, 2022, 240 pages
Book Review published on: January 6, 2023
Any military leader considering the opportunities and challenges present during multidomain operations should read Maritime Strike: The Untold Story of the Royal Navy Task Force Group off Libya in 2011, written by Rear Adm. John Kingwell, who commanded the Royal Navy Task Group. Kingwell tells the story of how his task force provided a range of military options to the British government following the events of the Arab Spring. Kingwell’s operations culminated in his task force launching twenty-two British Army Apache attack helicopter strikes off the deck of the HMS Ocean in Libya.
Maritime Strike is an excellent study in leadership in a complex operational environment. This book is well written and clearly describes an extremely complex operational environment through the eyes of a competent commander. Kingwell does an excellent job connecting British policy/strategy to tactical operations against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya to protect the civilian population and support Libyan opposition forces. Kingwell focuses each operation to achieve a strategic effect, always focusing on how he could influence the information environment through attack helicopter strikes while simultaneously making an immediate impact on the tactical situation. Every tactical move leveraged the sea, air, land, and space domains. He describes the challenges of navigating separate British and NATO chains of command, while leading a task force comprised of multiple services (Army and Navy) and coalition partners (France and the United States), in support of a broader campaign with joint and coalition air, sea, and ground components. He emphasizes the importance of building and training highly functional teams and growing relationships with a multitude of key stakeholders. The author also describes the highly complex task of resupplying his task force for six months in the Mediterranean while influencing events as part of the larger British and NATO operations. The focus on a holistic understanding of the operational environment across multiple domains and including the information and political environment to include internal service feuds is also worthy of attention from any serious military leader.
Kingwell’s focus on targeting and coordinating fires to achieve a desired effect as part of the air campaign against Gaddafi’s forces makes this book worth reading for anyone studying the fires warfighting function. The author’s perspective on how his force fit into the targeting process is a fascinating case study, as are his challenges with sensor-shooter connectivity in an austere environment with many elements of the commands competing for scarce resources. Unmanned sensor platforms leveraging space assets to function emphasize the importance of the space domain without explicitly discussing it. Accentuating how U.S. and allied dominance in space may currently be taken for granted but is critical to our success in future combat operations.
It is worth noting that the author tells the story from his perspective. Perhaps he overemphasizes the importance of the Apache attack helicopter air strikes on the psyche of the enemy and shows himself in the best possible light when he is threatened with removal from command in the aftermath of a press interview that was not well received by some in his own Ministry of Defense. These minor biases should not, however, detract from the overall value of Maritime Strike to serious students of complex operations in a multidomain environment. There are many best practices and lessons learned that can be drawn from the book that will certainly apply to any serious military leader envisioning what future operations may hold as we consider joint and coalition operations in a multidomain environment.
Book Review written by: Thomas A. Duncan II, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas