Jeune école or young school was a 19th century strategic maritime concept that originated in France. The basic theory behind this new maritime concept was the use of small but powerful naval units to fight off larger warships. At the same time the concept advocates an attack against enemy merchant shipping to break its economic power.
Although the 19th century is far behind us, the ideas of the young school are still very useful and the concept still is implied by various smaller navies that seek to deter larger navies.
During the 1920s and 1930s it was the newly founded Soviet Union that revived and modernised the concept of young school. At the time the Soviet Navy lacked large surface ships and a renewed young school doctrine would call for the use in torpedo boats, destroyers, submarines, coastal defence and light cruisers whom were to raid the enemy’s sea lanes of communication.
All these naval units had a few things in common against the main naval warships of the surrounding countries. They were small, easy to construct and cheap compared to the heavy cruisers, battlecruisers and battleships of those days.
|Fast Attack Craft form an integral part of the young school concept|
At the same time the Soviet Navy described a set of rules for when a country should use this new young school doctrine:
1. A New regime is under military and political attack and faced with unsuppressed domestic fighting. An army first policy is undertaken.
2. The regime expects to be besieged and attacked (by amphibious forces).
3. The countries navy is in disarray.
4. The navy faces severe budgetary shortages (and can’t afford to build expensive warships).
5. The country lacks the industry to produce modern naval armaments.
6. The maritime frontier is hemmed in by adversarial fleets and bases.
Young school in a modern world
Knowing what young school is, what naval units it requires and under what circumstances a country decides to employ it we can see that the young school is still being used by several countries. Each one of them can easily be categorised under one or several points of the above list.
Most notably would be Iran who uses its fleet of fast attack craft to counter the bigger US Navy warships. Iran is strategically confronted with Points 2, 4, 5 and 6. Located at the Persian Gulf the country is hemmed in by US Navy forces with several US bases inside and outside the Persian Gulf. Economic sanctions on Iran prevent the country on making technologic advancements or building large warships.
China has until two decades ago also employed the young school concept by giving priority to its army to secure the communist revolution. It also lacked a large navy as well as the industry of building one. At the same time it feared the US 7th Fleet operating freely in front of the Chinese coast.
Likewise is the case of North Korea that employs midget submarines for coastal defense as well as offense as demonstrated by the sinking of the South Korean frigate ROKS Cheonan on 26 March 2010.
So even though the young school concept is old, it is still alive and well in the modern day and proving that it is an effective strategic maritime concept.