“It is altogether fitting that we who have sailed the deeps of space now return again to the sea. This is in many ways a water planet, and it can be ruled from the waves. With sea power, rugged terrain can be bypassed and enemy strongholds isolated. Once naval superiority is achieved, Planet is ours for the taking.”
— Col. Corazon Santiago, “Planet: A Survivalist’s Guide”
In the game, The Maritime Control Center requires Doctrine: Initiative to build and acts as a Naval Yard in every base. Even better than that, it also adds two free movement points to every ship operated by the faction that possesses this project. This latter benefit essentially guarantees the faction naval dominance for the same reason that the jump from hoverfoils to cruiser hulls is such a big deal. The faction with the faster ships is the one that gets to decide when and how the battle is joined. And, in practice, this advantage matters far more than any realistic difference in weapons or armor.
But I find the video and the quote that accompanies it to be more interesting than the rather straightforward in-game effects. As we might expect from the Colonel by now, she values naval mastery for the same reason Alfred Mahan or Admiral Nimitz would. Speed and flexibility in the vector of attack let the faction with naval superiority pick and choose which enemy strongholds to take and which to allow to wither on the vine. This approach dovetails nicely with the rest of the Spartan philosophy of warfare, so it makes total sense that the Spartans would be the faction to construct this secret project in the implied canon.
However, the truly intriguing bit is how Santiago links the project back to the colonists’ spacefaring history. The video supports this point rather explicitly by beginning with a spaceship and then morphing it into a submarine cruising the oceans of Planet. The space navy is a common trope in science fiction, of course. It’s not just a coincidence; there’s a deep reason why they’re commonly called “spaceships”.
Still, it is worth noting that in real life, nations seem to have preferred to fold space operations in with their air forces instead of their navies. It is highly unlikely that this changed in the future history between the ’90s and the time the Unity was launched from Earth. So it is quite interesting to note that Santiago and the Spartans think of their voyage from Earth as analogous to a sea voyage instead of as a long flight.
The implication I draw from this is that the Spartans have already thought deeply about how they would go about organizing an interplanetary armed force. And they have come to the defensible conclusion that, when they have one, it should not be organized along modern lines and run through their equivalent of the USAF. Instead, it should be organized as a space navy.
This line of reasoning is exceptionally fascinating to me because armed spaceships don’t actually appear anywhere in the SMAC tech tree! Perhaps she dreams of returning to Earth with an interstellar armada? In any event, we can be certain that unlike Alexander, Santiago isn’t about to start weeping for the lack of worlds to conquer.