Publication Release: The Future of Naval Aviation

Released: August 2016

In August of 2015 CIMSEC published a Call for Articles soliciting analysis on the future of naval aviation. The following month, contributors responded with submissions that assessed the impact unmanned aviation will have on threat environments, the evolution of the carrier air wing, and other topics related to naval aviation. This compendium consists of the articles that featured during the topic week.

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Click to read.

Authors:
Ben Ho Wan Beng
Jon Paris
Tim Walton
Greg Smith
Michael Glynn
Peter Mairno
Wick Hobson

Editors:
Wick Hobson
Dmitry Filipoff

Matthew Hipple
Matthew Merighi
John Stryker

 

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Articles:
What’s the Buzz? Ship-Based Unmanned Aviation and its Influence on Littoral Navies in Combat Operations by Ben Ho Wan Beng
Parallax and Bullseye Buoys: The Future of Naval Aviation by LT Jon Paris
The Evolution of the Modern Carrier Air Wing by Timothy A. Walton
Trusting Autonomous Systems: It’s More than Just Technology by CDR Greg Smith
Information Management and the Future of Naval Aviation by Michael Glynn
Aiding India’s Next Generation Aircraft Carrier: A Review by Peter Marino
Naval Aviation Week: The Conclusion by Wick Hobson

Be sure to browse other compendiums in the publications tab, and feel free send compendium ideas to Publications@cimsec.org.

Featured Image: A Major from the USMC, serving with 801 NAS, landed on the flight deck of HMS Illustrious, as part of Exercise Neptune Warrior. (Billy Bunting/UK MOD)

Take the CIMSEC Reader Survey

By Sally DeBoer

2015-2016 was a productive year of great writing and innovative content for us here at CIMSEC.  In the interest of continuing that trend and building on that growth, we’re reaching out to you, our valued readers, for feedback on our content, platform, and more. One of CIMSEC’s greatest strengths is that it is a dynamic and diverse community of professional voices from a variety of perspectives. Please take a few moments and let your voice be heard by taking part in the CIMSEC Reader Survey below. We appreciate your time and candid input.  

Sally DeBoer is the President of CIMSEC, and also serves as CIMSEC’s Book Review Coordinator. Contact her at President@cimsec.org.

Featured image: YOKOSUKA, Japan (March 3, 2011) Yeoman 2nd Class Michael Davila takes the Navy-wide first class petty officer advancement examination at the base enlisted club at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka. Sailors are given three hours to answer 200 questions that test their knowledge of their rating and basic military requirements. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Ryan Smith/Released)

Electronic Warfare’s Place in Distributed Lethality: Congressional Testimony

The following testimony published on Information Dissemination, and is shared with the author’s permission.

By Jon Solomon

Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee

Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces

Prepared Statement of Jonathan F. Solomon

Senior Systems and Technology Analyst, Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc.

December 9th, 2015

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. and to the author’s knowledge do not reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency. These views have not been coordinated with, and are not offered in the interest of, Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. or any of its customers.

Thank you Chairman Forbes and Ranking Member Courtney and all the members of the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee for granting me the honor of testifying today and to submit this written statement for the record.

I am a former U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer (SWO), and served two Division Officer tours in destroyers while on active duty from 2000-2004. My two billets were perhaps the most tactically-intensive ones available to a junior SWO: Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer and AEGIS Fire Control Officer. As the young officer responsible for overseeing the maintenance and operation of my destroyers’ principal combat systems, I obtained an unparalleled foundational education in the tactics and technologies of modern naval warfare. In particular, I gained a fine appreciation for the difficulties of interpreting and then optimally acting upon the dynamic and often ambiguous “situational pictures” that were produced by the sensors I “owned.” I can attest to the fact that Clausewitz’s concepts of “fog” and “friction” remain alive and well in the 21st Century in spite of, and sometimes exacerbated by, our technological advancements.

My civilian job of the past eleven years at Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. has been to provide programmatic and systems engineering support to various surface combat system acquisition programs within the portfolio of the Navy’s Program Executive Officer for Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS). This work has provided me an opportunity to participate, however peripherally, in the development of some of the surface Navy’s future combat systems technologies. It has also enriched my understanding of the technical principles and considerations that affect combat systems performance; this is no small thing considering that I am not an engineer by education.

In recent years, and with the generous support and encouragement of Mr. Bryan McGrath, I’ve taken up a hobby of writing articles that connect my academic background in maritime strategy, naval history, naval technology, and deterrence theory with my professional experiences. One of my favorite topics concerns the challenges and opportunities surrounding the potential uses of electronic warfare in modern maritime operations. It’s a subject that I first encountered while on active duty, and later explored in great detail during my Masters thesis investigation of how advanced wide-area oceanic surveillance-reconnaissance-targeting systems were countered during the Cold War, and might be countered in the future.

Electronic warfare receives remarkably little attention in the ongoing debates over future operating concepts and the like. Granted, classification serves as a barrier with respect to specific capabilities and systems. But electronic warfare’s basic technical principles and effects are and have always been unclassified. I believe that much of the present unfamiliarity concerning electronic warfare stems from the fact that it’s been almost a quarter century since U.S. naval forces last had to be prepared to operate under conditions in which victory—not to mention survival—in battle hinged upon achieving temporary localized mastery of the electromagnetic spectrum over the adversary.

America’s chief strategic competitors intimately understand the importance of electronic warfare to fighting at sea. Soviet Cold War-era tactics for anti-ship attacks heavily leveraged what they termed “radio-electronic combat,” and there’s plenty of open source evidence available to suggest that this remains true in today’s Russian military as well.[i] The Chinese are no different with respect to how they conceive of fighting under “informatized conditions.”[ii] In a conflict against either of these two great powers, U.S. maritime forces’ sensors and communications pathways would assuredly be subjected to intense disruption, denial, and deception via jamming or other related tactics. Likewise, ill-disciplined electromagnetic transmissions by U.S. maritime forces in a combat zone might very well prove suicidal in that they could provide an adversary a bullseye for aiming its long-range weapons.

To their credit, the Navy’s seniormost leadership have gone to great lengths to stress the importance of electronic warfare in recent years, most notably in the new Maritime Strategy. They have even launched a new concept they call electromagnetic maneuver warfare, which appears geared towards exactly the kinds of capabilities I am about to outline. It is therefore quite likely that major elements of the U.S. Navy’s future surface warfare vision, Distributed Lethality, will take electronic warfare considerations into account. I would suggest that Distributed Lethality’s developers do so in three areas in particular: Command and Control (C2) doctrine, force-wide communications methods, and over-the-horizon targeting and counter-targeting measures.

First and foremost, Distributed Lethality’s C2 approach absolutely must be rooted in the doctrinal philosophy of “mission command.” Such doctrine entails a higher-echelon commander, whether he or she is the commander of a large maritime battleforce or the commander of a Surface Action Group (SAG) consisting of just a few warships, providing subordinate ship or group commanders with an outline of his or her intentions for how a mission is to be executed, then delegating extensive tactical decision-making authority to them to get the job done. This would be very different than the  Navy’s C2 culture of the past few decades in which higher-echelon commanders often strove to use a “common tactical picture” to exercise direct real-time control, sometimes from a considerable distance, over subordinate groups and ships. Such direct control will not be possible in contested areas in which communications using the electromagnetic spectrum are—unless concealed using some means—readily exploitable by an electronic warfare-savvy adversary. Perhaps the adversary might use noise or deceptive jamming, deceptive emissions, or decoy forces to confuse or manipulate the “common picture.” Or perhaps the adversary might attack the communications pathways directly with the aim of severing the voice and data connections between commanders and subordinates. An adept adversary might even use a unit or flagship’s insufficiently concealed radio frequency emissions to vector attacks. It should be clear, then, that the embrace of mission command doctrine by the Navy’s senior-most leadership on down to the deckplate level will be critical to U.S. Navy surface forces’ operational effectiveness if not survival in future high-end naval combat.

Let me now address the question of why a surface force must be able to retain some degree of voice and data communications even when operating deep within a contested zone. As I alluded earlier, I consider it highly counterproductive if not outright dangerous for a higher-echelon commander to attempt to exercise direct tactical control over subordinate assets in the field under opposed electromagnetic conditions. But that doesn’t mean that the subordinate assets should not share their sensor pictures with each other, or that those assets should not be able to spontaneously collaborate with each other as a battle unfolds, or that higher-echelon commanders should not be able to issue mission intentions and operational or tactical situation updates—or even exercise a veto over subordinates’ tactical decisions in extreme cases. A ship or an aircraft can, after all, only “see” on its own what is within the line of sight of its onboard sensors. If one ship or aircraft within some group detects a target of opportunity or an inbound threat, that information cannot be exploited to its fullest if the ship or aircraft in contact cannot pass what it knows to its partners in a timely manner with requisite details. In an age where large salvos of anti-ship missiles can cover hundreds—and in a few cases thousands—of miles in the tens of minutes, where actionable detections of “archers” and “arrows” can be extremely fleeting, and where only minutes may separate the moments in which each side first detects the other, the side that can best build and then act upon a tactical picture is, per legendary naval tactical theorist Wayne Hughes, the one most likely to fire first effectively and thus prevail.[iii]

This requires the use of varying forms of voice and data networking as tailored to specific tactical or operational C2purposes. A real-time tactical picture is often needed for coordinating defenses against an enemy attack. A very close to real-time tactical picture may be sufficient for coordinating attacks against adversary forces. Non-real time communications may be entirely adequate for a higher-echelon commander to convey mission guidance to subordinates.

But how to conceal these communications, or at least drastically lower the risk that they might be intercepted and exploited by an adversary? The most secure form of communications against electronic warfare is obviously human courier, and while this was used by the U.S. Navy on a number of occasions during the Cold War to promote security in the dissemination of multi-day operational and tactical plans, it is simply not practicable in the heat of an ongoing tactical engagement. Visible-band and infrared pathways present other options, as demonstrated by the varying forms of “flashing light” communications practiced over the centuries. For instance, a 21st Century flashing light that is based upon laser technologies would have the added advantage of being highly directional, as its power would be concentrated in a very narrow beam that an adversary would have to be very lucky to be in the right place at the right time to intercept. That said, visible-band and infrared systems’ effective ranges are fairly limited to begin with when used directly between ships, and even more so in inclement weather. This may be fine if a tactical situation allows for a SAG’s units to be operating in close proximity. However, if unit dispersal will often be the rule in contested zones in order to reduce the risk that an adversary’s discovery of one U.S. warship quickly results in detection of the rest of the SAG, then visible-band and infrared pathways can only offer partial solutions. A broader portfolio of communications options is consequently necessary.

It is commonly believed that the execution of strict Emissions Control (EMCON) in a combat zone in order to avoid detection (or pathway exploitation) by an adversary means that U.S. Navy warships would not be able to use any form of radiofrequency communications. This is not the case. Lower-frequency radios such as those that operate in the (awkwardly titled) High, Very High, and Ultra High Frequency (HF, VHF, and UHF) bands are very vulnerable because their transmission beams tend to be very wide. The wider a transmission beam, the greater the volume through which the beam will propagate, and in turn the greater the opportunity for an adversary’s signals intelligence collectors to be in the right place at the right time. In order to make lower-frequency radio communications highly-directional and thereby difficult for an adversary to intercept, a ship’s transmitting antennas would have to be far larger than is practical. At the Super High Frequency (SHF) band and above, though, transmission beamwidth using a practically-sized antenna becomes increasingly narrow and thus more difficult to intercept. This is why the Cold War-era U.S. Navy designed its Hawklink line-of-sight datalink connecting surface combatants and the SH-60B helicopter to use SHF; the latter could continually provide sonarbuoy, radar, or electronic support measures data to the former—and thereby serve as an anti-submarine “pouncer” or an anti-ship scout—with a relatively low risk of the signals being detected or exploited. In theory, the surface Navy might develop a portfolio of highly-directional line-of-sight communications systems that operate at SHF or Extremely High Frequency (EHF)/Millimeter-wave (MMW) bands in order to retain an all-weather voice and data communications capability even during strict EMCON. The Navy might also develop high-band communications packages that could be carried by manned or unmanned aircraft, and especially those that could be embarked aboard surface combatants, so that surface units could communicate securely over long-distances via these “middlemen.” Shipboard and airframe “real estate” for antennas is generally quite limited, though, so the tradeoff for establishing highly-directional communications may well be reduced overall communications “bandwidth” compared to what is possible when also using available communications systems that aren’t as directional. Nevertheless, this could be quite practicable in a doctrinal culture that embraces mission command and the spontaneous local tactical collaboration of ships and aircraft in a SAG.

High-directionality also means that a single antenna can only communicate with one other ship or aircraft at a time—and it must know where that partner is so that it can point its beam precisely. If a transmission is meant for receipt by other ships or aircraft, it must either be relayed via one or more “middleman” assets’ directional links to those units or it must be broadcast to them using less-directional pathways. Broadcast is perfectly acceptable as a one-way transmissions method if the broadcaster is either located in a relatively secure and defensible area or alternatively is relatively expendable.  An example of the former might be an airborne early warning aircraft protected by fighters or surface combatants broadcasting its radar picture to friendly forces (and performing as a local C2 post as well) using less-directional lower-frequency communications. An example of the latter might be Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) launchable by SAG ships to serve as communications broadcast nodes; a ship could uplink to the UAS using a highly-directional pathway and the UAS could then rebroadcast the data within a localized footprint. Higher-echelon commanders located in a battlespace’s rearward areas might also use broadcast to provide selected theater- and national-level sensor data, updated mission guidance, or other updated situational information to forward SAGs. By not responding to the broadcast, or by only responding to it via highly-directional pathways, receiving units in SAGs would gain important situational information while denying the adversary an easy means of locating them.

Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) radiofrequency communications techniques provide surface forces an additional tool that can be used at any frequency band, directional or not. By disguising waveforms to appear to be ambient radiofrequency noise or by using reduced transmission power levels and durations, an adversary’s signals intelligence apparatus might not be able to detect an LPI transmission even if it is positioned to do so. I would caution, though, that any given LPI “trick” might not have much operational longetivity. Signal processing technologies available on the global market may well reach a point, if they haven’t already, where a “trick” works only a handful of times—or maybe just once—and thereafter is recognized by an adversary. Many LPI techniques accordingly should be husbanded for use only when necessary in a crisis or wartime, and there should be a large enough “arsenal” of them to enable protracted campaigning.

Finally, I want to briefly discuss the importance of providing our surface force with an actionable over-the-horizon targeting picture while denying the same to adversaries. The U.S. Navy is clearly at a deficit relative to its competitors regarding anti-ship missile range. This is thankfully changing regardless of whether we’re talking about the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), a Tomahawk-derived system, or other possible solutions.

It should be noted, though, that a weapon’s range on its own is not a sufficient measure of its utility. This is especially important when comparing our arsenal to those possessed by potential adversaries. A weapon cannot be evaluated outside the context of the surveillance and reconnaissance apparatus that supports its employment.

In one of my earlier published works, I set up the following example regarding effective first strike/salvo range at the opening of a conflict:

Optimal first-strike range is not necessarily the same as the maximum physical reach of the longest-ranged weapon system effective against a given target type (i.e., the combined range of the firing platform and the weapon it carries). Rather, it is defined by trade-offs in surveillance and reconnaissance effectiveness…This means that a potential adversary with a weapon system that can reach distance D from the homeland’s border but can achieve timely and high-confidence peacetime cueing or targeting only within a radius of 0.75D has an optimal first-strike range of 0.75D…This does not reduce the dangers faced by the defender at distance D but does offer more flexibility in using force-level doctrine, posture, plans, and capabilities to manage risks.[iv]

Effective striking range is reduced further once a war breaks out and the belligerents take off their gloves with respect to each others’ surveillance and reconnaissance systems. The qualities and quantities of a force’s sensors, and the architecture and counter-detectability of the data pathways the force uses to relay its sensors’ “pictures” to “consumers” matter just as much as the range of the force’s weapons.[v] Under intense electronic warfare opposition, they arguably matter even more.

For a “shooter” to optimally employ long-range anti-ship weaponry, it must know with an acceptable degree of confidence that it is shooting at a valid and desirable target. Advanced weapons inventories, after all, are finite. It can take considerable time for a warship to travel from a combat zone to a rearward area where it can rearm; this adds considerable complexities to a SAG maintaining a high combat operational tempo. Nor are many advanced weapons quickly producible, and in fact it is far from clear that the stockpiles of some of these weapons could be replenished within the timespan of anything other than a protracted war. This places a heavy premium on not wasting scarce weapons against low-value targets or empty waterspace. As a result, in most cases over-the-horizon targeting requires more than just the detection of some contact out at sea using long-range radar, sonar, or signals collection and direction-finding systems. It requires being able to classify the contact with some confidence: for example, whether it is a commercial tanker or an aircraft carrier, a fishing boat or a frigate, a destroyer or a decoy. An electronic warfare-savvy defender can do much to make an attacker’s job of contact classification extraordinarily difficult in the absence of visual-range confirmation of what the longer-range sensors are “seeing.”

A U.S. Navy SAG would therefore benefit greatly from being able to embark or otherwise access low observable unmanned systems that can serve as over-the-horizon scouts. These scouts could be used not only for reconnaissance, but also for contact confirmation. They could report their findings back to a SAG via the highly-directional pathways I discussed earlier, perhaps via “middlemen” if needed.

Likewise, a U.S. Navy SAG would need to be able to degrade or deceive an adversary’s surveillance and reconnaissance efforts. There are plenty of non-technological options: speed and maneuver, clever use of weather for concealment, dispersal, and deceptive feints or demonstrations by other forces that distract from a “main effort” SAG’s thrust. Technological options employed by a SAG might include EMCON and deceptive emissions against the adversary’s signals intelligence collectors, and noise or deceptive jamming against the adversary’s active sensors. During the Cold War, the U.S. Navy developed some very advanced (and anecdotally effective) shipboard deception systems to fulfill these tasks against Soviet sensors. Unmanned systems might be particularly attractive candidates for performing offboard deception tasks and for parrying an adversary’s own scouts as well.

If deception is to be successful, a SAG must possess a high-confidence understanding of—and be able to exercise agile control over—its emissions. It must also possess a comprehensive picture of the ambient electromagnetic environment in its area of operations, partly so that it can blend in as best as possible, and partly to uncover the adversary’s own transient LPI emissions. This will place a premium on being able to network and fuse inputs from widely-dispersed shipboard and offboard signals collection sensors. Some of these sensors will be “organic” to a SAG, and some may need to be “inorganically” provided by other Navy, Joint, or Allied forces. Some will be manned, and other will likely be unmanned. This will also place a premium on developing advanced signal processing and emissions correlation capabilities.

We can begin to see, then, the kinds of operational and tactical possibilities such capabilities and competencies might provide U.S. Navy SAGs. A SAG might employ various deception and concealment measures to penetrate into the outer or middle sections of a hotly contested zone, perform some operational task(s) of up to several days duration, and then retire. Other naval or Joint forces might be further used to conduct deception and concealment actions that distract the adversary’s surveillance-reconnaissance resources (and maybe decision-makers’ attentions) from the area in which the SAG is operating, or perhaps from the SAG’s actions themselves, during key periods. And still other naval, Joint, and Allied forces might conduct a wide-ranging campaign of physical and electromagnetic attacks to temporarily disrupt if not permanently roll back the adversary’s surveillance-reconnaissance apparatus. Such efforts hold the potential of enticing an adversary to waste difficult-to-replace advanced weapons against “phantoms,” or perhaps distracting or confusing him to such an extent that he attacks ineffectively or not at all.

The tools and tactics I’ve outlined most definitely will not serve as “silver bullets” that shield our forces from painful losses. And there will always be some degree of risk and uncertainty involved in the use of these measures; it will be up to our force commanders to decide when conditions seem right for their use in support of a particular thrust. These measures should consequently be viewed as force-multipliers that grant us much better odds of perforating an adversary’s oceanic surveillance and reconnaissance systems temporarily and locally if used smartly, and thus better odds of operational and strategic successes.

With that, I look forward to your questions and the discussion that will follow. Thank you.

Jon Solomon is a Senior Systems and Technology Analyst at Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. in Alexandria, VA. He can be reached at jfsolo107@gmail.com. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. and to the author’s knowledge do not reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency. These views have not been coordinated with, and are not offered in the interest of, Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. or any of its customers.

[i] For example, see the sources referenced in my post “Advanced Russian Electronic Warfare Capabilities.” Information Dissemination blog, 16 September 2015,http://www.informationdissemination.net/2015/09/advanced-russian-electronic-warfare.html

[ii] For examples, see 1. John Costello. “Chinese Views on the Information “Center of Gravity”: Space, Cyber and Electronic Warfare.” Jamestown Foundation China Brief, Vol. 15, No. 8, 16 April 2015,http://www.jamestown.org/programs/chinabrief/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=43796&cHash=c0f286b0d4f15adfcf9817a93ae46363#.Vl4aL00o7cs; 2. “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2015.” (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 07 April 2015), 33, 38.

[iii] CAPT Wayne P. Hughes Jr, USN (Ret). Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, 2nd ed. (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2000), 40-44.

[iv] Jonathan F. Solomon. “Maritime Deception and Concealment: Concepts for Defeating Wide-Area Oceanic Surveillance-Reconnaissance-Strike Networks.” Naval War College Review 66, No. 4 (Autumn 2013): 113-114.

[v] See my posts 1. “21st Century Maritime Operations Under Cyber-Electromagnetic Opposition, Part II.” Information Dissemination blog, 22 October 2014, http://www.informationdissemination.net/2014/10/21st-century-maritime-operations-under_22.html; and 2. “21st Century Maritime Operations Under Cyber-Electromagnetic Opposition, Part III.” Information Dissemination blog, 23 October 2014,http://www.informationdissemination.net/2014/10/21st-century-maritime-operations-under_23.html

Featured Image: Persian Gulf (Feb. 5, 2007) – Air Traffic Controller 1st Class Otto Delacruz identifies an air contact to Air Traffic Controller 1st Class Brent Watson standing watch in the ship’s helicopter direction center aboard USS Boxer (LHD 4). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joshua Valcarcel)

The Rise Of The Latin American Shipyard

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“The security environment in Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized by complex, diverse, and non-traditional challenges to U.S. interests.” Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, before the 114th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee, 10 March 2016.

By W. Alejandro Sanchez

Introduction

In recent months various Latin American navies have either received or deployed new platforms. For example, Chile and Mexico have launched new Oceanic Patrol Vessels (OPVs) while Colombia has launched two amphibious landing vessels and two speedboats. In late July, Peru’s brand-new training vessel, the Union, left port for its first voyage.

While these acquisitions and deployments appear standard, there is one important detail that links them together: all these platforms were produced by Latin American shipyards.

The global shipbuilding industry is about to get more crowded as Latin America shipyards are making their presence felt. Their platforms are not solely produced for local navies, as exporting them is now an objective.

Current Projects

The most ambitious domestic naval project is found in Brazil. With assistance from the French company DCNS, the Brazilian Navy is constructing four Scorpene-class diesel-electric submarines, as well as a nuclear-powered submarine, a dream of the Brazilian Navy for decades. Just this past July, the fourth section of the Humaitá was delivered to Itaguaí Construções Navais (ICN).  According to the Brazilian news agency Defesa Aerea & Naval the first submarine, the Riachuelo, will be launched in 2018 and delivered in 2020 while the Humaitá will be launched in 2020 and delivered in 2021.

Apart from the submarines themselves, Brazil is also constructing a submarine-building facility in Itaguaí, near Rio de Janeiro. These projects constitute the massive program known as Programa de Desenvolvimiento de Submarinos or Program Development for Submarines (PROSUB).

A photo of the team that worked on the production of the submarine's stern of the Humaitá. Planobrazil.com
A photo of the team that worked on the production of the stern of the Brazilian submarine Humaitá. (Planobrazil.com)

Other countries are manufacturing naval platforms, though not submarines. Specifically, regional shipyards are constructing OPVs, multipurpose vessels, and even training vessels. Case in point, in late July, the Colombian shipyard Corporación de Ciencia y Tecnología para el Desarrollo de la Industria Naval Marítima y Fluvial (COTECMAR) delivered two new amphibious landing vessels, the Golfo de Morrosquillo and Bahía Málaga to the Colombian Navy, as well as two river patrol boats. COTECMAR has already delivered two similar ships (the Golfo de Tribuga and the Golfo de Uraba) to the Colombian Navy and plans to build an additional two more for a total of six vessels. The company has also constructed OPVs like the 7 de Agosto, which participated in operations Atalanta and Ocean Shield off the Horn of Africa.

When it comes to other countries, in early August the Chilean shipyard Astilleros y Maestranzas de la Armada (ASMAR) launched the OPV Cabo Odger from its facilities in Talcahuano. The company has already delivered three similar vessels: Piloto Pardo, Comandante Toro and Marinero Fuentealba that were commissioned June 2008, August 2009, and November 2014, respectively.”

As for neighboring Peru, the state-run shipyard Servicios Industriales de la Marina (SIMA) has, as previously mentioned, constructed the country’s new training vessel (the author has discussed Latin America’s training vessels in a 6 June commentary for CIMSEC). On 27 July, the BAP Union departed the port in Callao for its first multinational voyage, carrying aboard 93 Peruvian naval cadets. Moreover, two patrol vessels were launched earlier this year: the Rio Pativilca and the Rio Cañete; they were constructed in SIMA’s shipyard in Chimbote (northern Peru).

As a final example,the Mexican Secretariat of the Navy has announced that the shipyard Astillero de la Marina (ASTIMAR) has launched two new vessels in the past couple of months. The shipyard No.6 at Guaymas (state of Sonora) launched the logistics support vessel ARM Isla María Madre in late May while shipyard No.1 shipyard launched coastal patrol vessel ARM Monte Albán in mid July. IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly explains that “Secretary of Navy Admiral Vidal Soberón Sanz noted during the launch ceremony that the ship was entirely built by Mexican workers with local materials.”

In an interview with the author, Mr. Mario Pedreros Leighton, president of the Georgetown Consulting Group, LLC., based in Washington DC, highlighted the multipurpose functions that these domestically-manufactured platforms accomplish. As inter-state war is highly unlikely in Latin America, platform acquisition is not solely judged on traditional defense from a foreign military, but what other missions platforms can carry out, particularly to support civil society. Mr. Pedreros Leighton explains how “there is no doubt that vessels today must fulfill a social role, like protecting natural resources and carrying out search and rescue operations. These uses make the vessels more attractive as their value is not based on traditional defense. In turn, governments find it easier to approve budgets and investments regarding these projects.” Hence, it is no surprise that the region has focused on constructing OPVs and multipurpose ships, as they are relatively inexpensive to operate and maintain, and can be utilized for patrol, support operations, as well as providing relief to coastal regions. 

Future Projects?

It is safe to say that Latin American shipyards will continue to produce vessels and submarines for local navies. As previously mentioned, Brazil is close to completing the construction of two Scorpene submarines, while it is expected that the two others will be delivered in 2022 and 2023. Even more, the highly anticipated nuclear submarine should be ready around 2023-2025.

Moreover, it appears that the Argentine shipbuilding industry is bouncing back after experiencing a difficult decade and a half of economic crisis and turbulent governance. The Rio Santiago shipyard in Buenos Aires province will now manufacture vessels that will be utilized to train naval cadets. Two are currently under construction, with a total of six expected to be ordered. According to the Argentine news agency Telam, the first will be delivered in 2018. Moreover, earlier this year Rio Santiago signed a deal with Daewoo to manufacture a Makassar-type landing dock platform vessel.

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Rio Santiago shipyard in Argentina. (Aandigital.com.ar)

It is important to highlight the assistance that other companies are providing to Latin American shipyards. Apart from DCNS in Brazil or Daewoo in Argentina, other examples include, Damen, which signed an agreement with Mexico so the country can construct in its own shipyards the aforementioned OPVs which are based on Damen’s Stan Patrol 4207. Similarly, while the Union was constructed in Peru, the Spanish company CYPSA Ingenieros Navales aided SIMA in the design of the vessel. As for future cooperation projects, representatives from Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems and Copower Ltda visited the facilities of Ecuador’s state-run shipyard Astilleros Navales Ecuatorianos (ASTINAVE) this past May.

The argument proposed here is that Latin American shipyards will continue to aim at domestically manufacturing platforms, which means that future deals with foreign shipyards will have to include some level of know-how and technical exchange.

The Ultimate Objective: Export

What is the ultimate goal for these shipyards? Manufacturing platforms for export, and not just to sell to local navies appears to be the answer. On this issue, Colombia’s COTECMAR reached a major milestone in April when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos carried out a diplomatic tour throughout Central America. During his stop in Honduras, President Santos signed a deal with the Honduran government where the latter will purchase a COTECMAR support vessel (the exact model and timeline for delivery are still unknown).

The significance of this deal cannot be underestimated as it is a Latin American shipyard exporting a platform to another regional state. (COTECMAR had previously supplied river boats to the Brazilian Army and Navy, however we are focusing on ocean-going platforms).

Colombia–Launch of the ARC Golfo de Uraba. (COTECMAR)

This deal also brings up the question of which countries are potential customers for Latin American shipyards. It makes sense that their primary targets would be countries with less developed naval industries, like for example Central America, Uruguay, and perhaps Caribbean states. If these hypothetical deals succeed, maybe some regional shipyard could attempt to export outside of the Western Hemisphere.

One plausible scenario is that, even if Latin American shipyards cannot sell brand-new platforms to the aforementioned nations, they could hypothetically still sell efficient, second-hand vessels from local navies at a much reduced cost. Mr. Pedreros Leighton explains how “Chile, for example, could attempt to sell the OPV Piloto Prado [constructed by ASMAR and utilized by the Chilean Navy] which is almost a decade old and was constructed utilizing a Fassmer 80 design.” Second-hand platforms are always an attractive option when there are insufficient funds for brand-new equipment.

Potential Problems

Due to space considerations, we will provide a broad overview of the likely woes thatregional shipyards could face regarding future projects. Financial and technical problemsare obvious concerns, which are best exemplified by the construction of the Brazilian submarines. In 2009, the Navy’s objective was to have the first submarine, the Riachuelo, launched in 2015, but construction has been delayed by three years. Meanwhile, the delivery date for the nuclear submarine varies by a margin of two years. These changing delivery dates certainly do not help the image of the ICN shipyard and its supporting companies.

Another issue is finding customers, locally and abroad. The global shipbuilding industry is cluttered as shipyards compete with one another as well as government-to-government deals (e.g. Peru has recently obtained a new corvette, the Ferre, which was donated by South Korea).  Moreover, while Latin American shipyards can construct vessels, potential customers may continue to prefer more expensive platforms from well-known companies.

ASTIMAR – OPV Chiapas. (imparcialoaxaca.mx)
OPV Chiapas in ASTIMAR shipyard in Mexico. (imparcialoaxaca.mx)

Another problem has to do with the volume of construction. Mr. Pedreros Leighton explains that “building one vessel is very expensive, but manufacturing two or more makes the project less costly.” Unsurprisingly, shipyards prefer to have large orders, however they may have to settle for single units (e.g. COTECMAR and Honduras) in order to establish their brands with foreign customers. While this situation may diminish sales revenue, the offset would be achieving a stronger name brand.

A final point has to do with marketing and name brands. Colombia’s COTECMAR has had an aggressive marketing program in order to gain customers abroad such as Brazil and Honduras. It is beyond the scope of this essay to discuss marketing strategies among shipyards, however it is necessary to stress that Latin American shipyards will only export platforms if they manage to make their names become well-known regionally.

Concluding Thoughts

Latin American shipyards are currently enjoying a boom, as many of them are constructing vessels from Brazilian submarines to OPVs in Chile and Mexico, to multipurpose vessels in Colombia, and a training vessel in Peru. This is a positive development for regional navies as they can rely on domestic shipyards to construct new platforms and have the expertise to repair vessels already in service. Moreover, the sale by Colombia’s COTECMAR to Honduras of a support ship is a significant development as this means regional shipyards are now exporting platforms.

It is true that Latin American navies cannot manufacture heavy surface combatants or carriers; meanwhile Brazil is having trouble keeping its ambitious PROSUB submarine project on schedule. Nevertheless, the tides are changing and Latin America is no longer solely an importer of sea platforms, it is also once again a producer and, albeit in a very restricted breadth, an exporter. 

Alejandro Sanchez Nieto is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.

The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Featured Image: Construction of the Brazilian submarine Riachuelo in Itaguaí (RJ) (Planobrazil.com)

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.