Entering the Bear’s Lair: Russia’s A2/AD Bubble in the Baltic Sea

The following article originally featured on The National Interest and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here

By Bret Perry

On the cold, cloudy afternoon of March 18th, 2018, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and its Amphibious Readiness Group steamed through the Baltic Sea about 100 miles south of the Swedish island of Gotland, just west of Lithuania and Latvia. With its full squadron of three amphibious assault ships, including the USS Bataan Landing Helicopter Dock, and three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, this impressive US military presence in the Baltic Sea was unprecedented. In response to unusual Russian military activity near Estonia, including the presence of ‘little green men’ in the border town of Narva, the new White House administration was determined to send a message to Moscow.

Two US Marine Corps F-35Bs, flown by call sign Yukon and his wingman Zeus, surged off the deck of the USS Bataan to conduct a combat air patrol (CAP) to reinforce the NATO presence in the area. Banking south, Yukon heard the NATO E-3 Sentry Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) operator Showboat say through his thick Dutch accent, “Yukon, Showboat, you have a pop-up group of two Bogeys, Bullseye 207 degrees for 150 kilometers, 1,300 meters.”

“Copy, Showboat. Intercepting,” Yukon responded as he throttled his jet up to Mach 1.6. Another aggressive Russian flyby, he thought.

About four minutes later, Yukon and Zeus had positioned their aircraft about 250 feet behind the two Su-30SM Flanker-C bandits. But unlike previous intercepts of Russian fighter over Baltic Sea, the Su-30s were clearly armed with more than the typical, short range Archer (R-73) air-to-air missiles.

“Zeus, any idea what they’re carrying?” Yukon asked his wingman.

“Negative, but they’re not playing around today,” she responded.

“Copy. Take a closer look for me.”

“Roger,” Zeus responded. She slowly began to creep her aircraft closer to the Su-30 on the left.

“Showboat, Yukon, tally-ho on two Flanker-Cs. We think…” Yukon’s voice trailed off as he watched a disaster unfold in an instant.

As Zeus approached the bandits, one of the Su-30s tried to barrel-roll over her F-35B. But as Zeus held steady 100 feet from the Flankers, the Su-30 pilot misjudged the maneuver, and slammed the Russian jet into the right wing of Zeus’ F-35B. The wing snapped off, sending Zeus spinning, while the Su-30 pitched over into a nosedive.

“Eject! Eject! Eject!” Zeus yelled into the radio.

In response to the chaos, the remaining Su-30 banked right, and bugged out. When Yukon looked to his left, he felt relief and horror at what he saw.

He could see Zeus’ parachute. But… there was no sign of the Russian pilot.

Although the aforementioned vignette is fictional, it captures the increasingly worrisome military implications of Russia’s posture in Kaliningrad. The presence of Russian ground, naval, and air forces in Kaliningrad is not new, but Russia has essentially transformed the tiny area into a major “pop-up” Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) zone from what had been a Cold War-era Soviet outpost. Despite traditionally being associated with the Asia-Pacific or even the Persian Gulf, Russia’s deployments in Kaliningrad reflect the potential for the emergence of localized A2/AD zones in Europe. Not only is A2/AD now a critical component in European security dynamics, but it is also a global phenomenon that has truly ‘broken out’ of the Pacific’s First Island Chain. With NATO’s eyes on the defense of its Baltic members and a growing view that Poland is NATO’s new center of gravity in the East, a Kaliningrad A2/AD zone projects advanced ground, naval, and air threats, creating significant security challenges.

Range rings of Russian missile systems in Kaliningrad. (Avascent)

Achieving Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) and air dominance is a critical component in countering A2/AD zones. Although Russia’s defense industry faces challenges with upgrading the state’s fighter fleet, both the Russian Aerospace Forces and Russian Naval Aviation possess formidable 4G and 4.5G tactical aircraft capable of executing advanced air-to-air combat and challenging NATO’s air dominance. In Kaliningrad, two Naval Aviation fighter regiments maintain several squadrons of Su-27 fighters and Su-24 bombers out of two separate air bases. As Russian Naval Aviation purchases at least 50 new Su-30SMs by 2020, the forward deployment of these units to Kaliningrad would significantly sharpen Russia’s sword in the Baltic airspace. Specifically, Kaliningrad’s position provides Russian forces with the ability to scramble their tactical aircraft within close proximity to NATO forces while under the protection of extensive Russian air-defense systems.

15 minutes later, Yukon continued circling, waiting for the other Su-30SM to return and hamper the USS Bataan’s search and rescue efforts. Suddenly, he heard Showboat shout over the radio.

“Unidentified track, Bullseye 163 degrees for 380 kilometers, 2,300 meters, hot!”

Yukon saw the new contact marked by Showboat on his Tactical Situation Display (TSD) located on the front left of his F-35B’s cockpit. It was tagged as unknown, but moving rapidly across the screen at 4,500 mph towards Showboat. Yukon’s gut told him something was wrong, so he quickly switched his APG-81 radar onto “active” mode.

In a second, the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar on Yukon’s F-35B scanned the object and autonomously identified it as a Russian 40N6 missile. As the F-35B’s datalink automatically transferred its identification to Showboat’s AWACS and other forces in the area, he said, “Showboat, Yukon, Bullseye, 230 degrees for 340 kilometers, 5,000 meters, SAM launch! Break left! Break left!”  

But the 40N6 surface-to-air missile (SAM), flying at over 4,500 mph, was too fast.

Within 10 seconds, Yukon heard Showboat shout “Break…Mayday! Mayday! May…!” All what was left was static. On his TSD, the icon denoting Showboat’s AWACS was gone from his display.

Launched from an S-400 “Growler” SAM launcher near the small coastal town of Yantarny in Kaliningrad, the 40N6 missile is a long-range weapon with an active- and semi-active seeker designed to destroy high-value targets, such as AWACS, electronic warfare, and other special mission aircraft. In 2012, Russia began outfitting at least two battalions in Kaliningrad with its new S-400 SAM system. The S-400s joined Kaliningrad’s S-300 SAMs, also an important threat.

Moscow’s deployment of S-400 missiles to Kaliningrad was key in transforming the outpost into an effective A2/AD zone. With a maximum range of 250 miles (although the system most likely can only detect advanced stealth aircraft with much smaller radar cross-sections, such as the F-22, at closer ranges), Kaliningrad’s S-400s are capable of turning the airspace over much of the Baltic Sea, Latvia, Lithuania, and half of Poland (including the capital, Warsaw), into a no-fly zone at the flip of a switch. General Frank Gorenc, the commander of US Air Forces in Europe, explained that Moscow’s SAMs and other systems “creates areas that are very tough to get into.” Although an assortment of stealth aircraft, electronic warfare capabilities, and long-range strike weapons can neutralize the S-400, strikes in Kaliningrad carry strategic consequences due to the risk of Russian escalation, ultimately making the suppression of enemy air defenses a complex challenge.

Without Showboat, Yukon and the naval forces accompanying the 22nd MEU were in the dark without any early warning capability. Yukon’s F-35B acted as the eyes and ears of the fleet with its AESA radar. But as he was miles south of the MEU and the closest AWACS replacement was in Germany, the decision was made to have one of the escort destroyers turn on its radar’s “active” mode. This decision would give away the MEU’s precise location, but was necessary to establish a 360-degree view of the deteriorating situation.

The USS Truxtun powered on its SPY-1D radar and Mk 99 fire control system to restore awareness. Although the Truxtun could now detect targets over 100 miles away, Yukon’s F-35B continued to play a role with its powerful AESA radar.

But within a minute of firing up its radar, “Overlord,” Truxtun’s operations specialist announced “10 unidentified tracks, Bullseye 187 degrees for 280 kilometers, and closing fast.”

Yukon looked down on his TSD and saw the unidentified tracks appear near the top edge of the screen. They were moving quickly down the display at an angle towards the MEU, but not as fast as the S-400 missile’s earlier observed path. At the current pace, they would reach the fleet in about 410 seconds. Yukon banked his plane and burned towards the unknown contacts.

About a minute later, Yukon’s AESA radar picked up all ten of the contacts, identifying them as P-800 Oniks anti-ship cruise missiles. The F-35B’s computer immediately transmitted the data to the Truxtun and other NATO forces in the immediate area. Within less than a second, the Truxton’s AEGIS Combat System processed the threat information and autonomously launched 20 SM-2 SAMs towards the incoming Oniks missiles, targeting each Oniks with two SM-2s.

Yukon burned towards the Oniks missiles, prepared to intercept. But Overlord was wary of Yukon going “winchester,” or running out of missiles, especially if additional Russian aircraft emerged.

About 150 seconds later, the Truxton’s SM-2s reached the incoming Oniks missiles. Four of the missiles struck their targets, but debris from their impact knocked the Truxton’s remaining SAMs off course. Detecting its error, the Truxton’s AEGIS system automatically launched 12 new SM-2s towards the remaining Oniks missiles.

“Overlord” ordered Yukon to engage one of the Oniks even though they were nearly out of range. The nervousness in Overlord’s voice was unmistakable. Yukon acknowledged the command, responding with “Fox Three” as one of his AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) dropped out of the F-35B’s weapons bay, firing towards the Oniks.

90 seconds later, the Truxton’s second wave of SM-2s reached the remaining Oniks missiles. They knocked two Oniks missiles out of the sky, but four more remained. 10 seconds later, Yukon’s AMRAAM smashed into an Oniks, leaving three. The Truxton’s AEGIS Combat System immediately launched six of its RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow Missiles, which were tailored to counter supersonic maneuvering anti-ship missiles such as the Oniks.

Within 60 seconds, the RIM-162s found their targets. Two of the Oniks were hit, but a sudden last-minute maneuver by the last Russian missile kept it airborne.

10 seconds later, this final missile struck the Truxton’s bow at supersonic speeds, delivering a crippling blow to the American warship.

Responsible for launching the Oniks, the K-300P Bastion is one of the most advanced anti-ship cruise missile systems fielded. With a range of 186 miles, this system is capable of launching supersonic missiles that can fly as low as 15 feet and conduct evasive maneuvers to counter a target’s anti-missile defenses. Impressed by its capabilities, Russian and Indian engineers used the Bastion’s P-800 Oniks missiles to form the basis for the jointly-developed BrahMos, the world’s fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation. Essentially, the Bastion not only lets its operators engage distant naval targets, but also allows them to launch advanced missiles capable of overwhelming sophisticated anti-air defenses systems.

Although Russia has not yet equipped its coastal missile regiment based in Kaliningrad with the advanced Bastion anti-ship missile system (the regiment in Kaliningrad is reportedly deployed with the less advanced SSC-1 ‘Sepal’ missiles), the aforementioned scenario is important as it still showcases how easily Russia can assemble the necessary elements in Kaliningrad to deny access to the Baltic Sea. Further, as Moscow already decided to deploy the Bastion to controversial areas, such as the Kuril Islands in the Pacific, and Crimea in the Black Sea, Kaliningrad forces could also soon be armed with the Bastion as Moscow continues to pursue A2/AD in Europe. Coastal missile forces aside, Kaliningrad’s three diesel-electric submarines, two destroyers, and assortment of smaller vessels provide Russian forces with enough maritime power to contest a NATO naval presence in the Baltic Sea. As commander of US Army Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, explained, Russia “could make it very difficult for any of us [US] to get up into the Baltic Sea if we needed to in a contingency.”

About 25 minutes later, Yukon was about 50 miles north of Kaliningrad, flying low. Miles behind him, five other F-35Bs had taken off from the Bataan and were en route to join him.

It was time to strike back.

But Yukon and his fellow Marine aviators would not be leading the strike. That was the job for the Polish Air Force.

Committed to NATO, Poland activated contingency plans to scramble a squadron of F-16s to conduct a Strike/CAP tasking soon after Showboat’s F-35B went down. In response to heavy usage, Poland had just upgraded its F-16s to be some of the most advanced aircraft of that type anywhere. Equipped with AESA radars, a next-gen datalink pod, and advanced strike munitions, the Polish F-16s would deliver the punch against Russian forces in Kaliningrad.

Specifically, the Polish F-16s were equipped with AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) that could strike targets as far as 230 miles away. The Polish squadron was split into two, flying “nap-of-the-earth” to avoid Kaliningrad’s Growler SAMs. In support were Bataan’s F-35Bs, which would engage any Russian air threats with their AMRAAM missiles and jam their sensors and communications with their electronic warfare systems. Since Yukon was closer to Kaliningrad, he would provide the Polish pilots with targeting information via a secure next-gen datalink that wouldn’t give away their positions, unlike legacy Link-16 systems. At this point, his AESA radar was switched to passive mode, allowing the stealthy F-35B to fly undetected towards Kaliningrad.

When Yukon was 45 miles from the shore, still unseen by Russian radar operators, he powered on his advanced Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS). Since the miniaturized EOTS sensor was built into the F-35’s nose, he didn’t have to worry about the sensor eroding his aircraft’s stealth profile. On the screen Yukon steered towards the target into a “bump-up” position.

Yukon’s display showed several Growler SAM’s in their “slanted-E” revetments. He was about to confirm the target when he noticed something else—a skinny object standing up.

It was an Iskander “Stone” transporter erector launcher (TEL) in firing position.

The Iskander, also referred to as the SS-26, is a modern short-range ballistic missile system capable of launching missiles with conventional high-explosive fragmentation warheads, fuel-air explosives, bunker buster, and electromagnetic pulse payloads. Additionally, the Iskander’s maximum range of 310 miles makes it a potent system. But the Iskander’s most lethal trait is its ability to launch nuclear warheads with as much power as 50,000 tons of TNT.

In 2015, Russia began rotating its newest Iskander-M systems in Kaliningrad in response to NATO’s renewed commitment to Eastern European defense. Moscow may permanently deploy the missiles to Kaliningrad by the end of the decade. Also troubling, some NATO partners believe that Moscow is secretly stockpiling tactical nuclear warheads in Kaliningrad for use atop the Iskanders. The Kaliningrad deployments were a surprise as Moscow previously used threats to position these missiles in Kaliningrad as a bargaining tool to reduce NATO’s European missile defense deployments. Even though the Iskander is just a tactical missile system, its deployment in Kaliningrad has strategic implications for NATO attempts to “deflate” an A2/AD bubble there. With or without nuclear warheads, Kaliningrad’s Iskanders have the ability to strike an array of key NATO positions in the Baltics. Morever, the confusion whether an Iskander system is armed with conventional or nuclear payloads by itself could foul NATO’s crisis decision making.

40 minutes later, Yukon was just a couple miles away from “Banker,” a Dutch KC-10 Extender aerial refueling tanker aircraft. The joint USMC-Polish retaliatory strike had been called off as pressure from several NATO partners and other states forced the US to step back and resolve the crisis diplomatically. The Russian propaganda machine was in full swing, asserting that its Kaliningrad forces acted entirely in self-defense. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Vorshevsky claimed that Zeus deliberately crashed her F-35B into the Russian Su-30 and that Kaliningrad’s military commanders had no choice but to launch “a couple” Oniks missiles when the “trespassing” US forces turned on their fire control systems. Vorshevsky’s comments were retweeted and broadcasted around the world.

Waiting to refuel from the Dutch tanker, Yukon reflected on how close he’d come to attacking Russian forces. All he could think about was that he’d back up flying a CAP the next day and who knew what the Russians had in store tomorrow.

Again, this scenario is fictional and some liberties were taken for narrative purposes. As well, the reality of such a scenario unfolding would be even more complex, especially in the political domain. But the point that US forces will struggle to maneuver in new European A2/AD bubbles is unquestionable.

“Popping” Russia’s European A2/AD bubbles wherever they may be established is ultimately a tough challenge without easy answers for NATO. Purely surging an overwhelming amount of force into the bubble is simply not feasible due to resource constraints and the risk that Russia would respond with tactical nuclear weapons. However, by making its forces more survivable, the US and NATO allies can naturally degrade the potential effectiveness of Russia’s A2/AD zones and establish some credible level of conventional deterrence.

There are examples worth considering for inspiration, such as the US Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) capability. NIFC-CA is a US Navy concept using an array of advanced data links to transform a carrier air wing and carrier battle group into a larger network of distributed ‘sensors’ and ”shooters.” Created to counter the air-breathing threat elements of Chinese A2/AD in the Asia-Pacific, NIFCA-CA is a redundant, “networked-enhanced” system capable of functioning even if a handful of sensors are neutralized or jammed. Essentially in NIFC-CA, every aircraft and destroyer is linked directly to each other to make the force more survivable.

A NIFC-CA-like capability scaled for the European theater is a crucial step for defeating Russia’s European A2/AD bubbles through neutralizing air-breathers and broadly enabling more effective air operations. Simply, NATO cannot expect to conduct SEAD, CAS, or other types of air operations to ‘pop’ Russia’s A2/AD bubble without removing the air-breather threats. Although critics rightfully point to Russia’s advanced EW capabilities (as demonstrated in the Ukrainian conflict) as a key challenge, this only reinforces the need for NATO to invest in a more networked, resilient force.

The “NATO Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air” concept must be service agonistic (e.g., not just a Navy concept, but inclusive of Air Force assets as well) as conflict in the European theater will not solely revolve around the carrier air wing; the appropriate air, naval, and relevant ground platforms should be incorporated. Furthermore, this integrated fire control concept must include the systems of non-US NATO members. In Europe, the US has partners—some of which are positioned within Russia’s emerging A2/AD bubbles—with platforms already in place that can provide immediate support. Challenges associated with information assurance, interoperability, and 5G-to-4.5G communications make developing a ‘common datalink’ a difficult task, but one that is crucial to maximize the effectiveness of NATO’s air assets.

Whether it is turning an American US Air Force F-15C/D, USMC F-35B, or Polish F-16 C/D into sensors and shooters networked directly with each other, a ‘NATO IFC-CA’ would diminish the potency of Russia’s A2/AD zones. But ultimately, Russia’s new way of operating in Europe requires the US and NATO to increase their investments in the appropriate capabilities, hone joint multinational operations through regional exercises, and most importantly, assess how their current strategy, doctrine, and tactics match up against this evolving threat.

Bret Perry is an analyst at Avascent, an aerospace and defense consulting firm. The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily reflect those of any organization.

The author would like to thank August Cole, Dominik Kimla, Alex Chang, Steve Ganyard, Jacqueline Phan, and Cate Walsh for their advice and comments.

Featured Image: S-400 Triumf air defense systems from Russia (defencetalk.com)

The UNCLCS Ruling and the Future of the Uruguayan Navy

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

Uruguay’s continental shelf control has been extended to 350 nautical miles. On 30 August, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) ruled in favor of the South American nation’s request to extend its maritime territory by 83,000 square kilometers. While this is a major diplomatic victory for the Uruguayan government, the new territory will need to be properly patrolled, which means additional pressure on the Uruguayan Navy that currently operates with an aging fleet.

The author of this commentary argues that Uruguay’s new maritime territory should be a starting point for a greater discussion about the future of its Navy, both in terms of its future fleet composition and missions.  

A Brief History

It is important to stress that the Uruguayan military has not been in an inter-state conflict in over a century. Its last major confrontation was the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870). In the 20th century, Uruguay supported the Allies in World War II (the 1939 Admiral Graf Spee incident occurred in Uruguayan waters). The only other major challenge to Uruguayan sovereignty occurred in the late 1960s to early 1970s when Uruguayan security forces battled the Tupamaros, a local insurgent movement.

In the 21st century, Uruguay has only had one small international incident. Between 2005-2010, the Uruguayan and Argentine governments had a diplomatic and legal dispute regarding the construction of a pulp mill in the Uruguay River, which serves as a border between the two states. Even though no conflict ever occurred, former Uruguayan President José Mujica famously declared in 2011 that he had contemplated the possibility of a war with Argentina over the pulp mill and had met with his military’s commanders about possible scenarios.

The Navy’s Current Platforms

Nowadays the Uruguayan military, and the Navy in particular, is in a dire state given limited budgets which prevent the acquisition of new heavy platforms.

In August, Admiral Leonardo Alonso, commander of the Uruguayan Navy, declared that the fleet has 12 operational sea platforms. The fleet composition includes a Joao Belo-class frigate, the ROU Uruguay; two Kondor II-class minesweepers, the ROU Temerario and the ROU Audaz (the ROU Fortuna was retired in 2014); the oceanic patrol vessel ROU Maldonado the support vessels ROU General Artigas and ROU Vanguardia. Additional vessels include the tugboat ROU Banco Ortiz; the oceanographic ship ROU Oyarvide; the ROU Sirius; and the patrol boats ROU Colonia, ROU Rio Negro, and the ROU Paysandu. According to Uruguayan media, the average age of the fleet is 50 years (e.g. the Joao Belo frigate was constructed in the late 1960s).

ATLANTIC OCEAN (March 7, 2010) A rigid-hull inflatable boat assigned to the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) approaches the Uruguayan navy frigate Uruguay (ROU 1) for a passenger transfer. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Barker/Released)

A strongly worded op-ed in the daily El Observador op-ed published on 20 August, provocatively titled “Who Needs the Armed Forces?” stresses how the Navy is “bankrupt, not only because of its aging fleet, its lackluster training and small budget, but due to corruption scandals in recent years that have affected the morale.”

For the past couple of years, the Uruguayan military has attempted to purchase modern offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), which will be the cornerstone of the future fleet. The Navy has apparently selected Lurssen’s OPV 80 model and reportedly plans to procure three platforms in a deal which will cost an estimated USD $250 million. To date, no contract has been signed yet as the government appears to lack sufficient funds to purchase the vessels. 

The Uruguayan Navy has been lobbying the government for new funds and the approval of the OPV-deals in order to properly monitor the country’s growing sea. Admiral Leonardo Alonso has declared to the Senate that on any given day the Navy detects around 350 ships in Uruguayan waters “but we only see the ones that wish to be detected, which have their equipment on and are identified by our sensors,” which means that the country is vulnerable to “piracy, maritime accidents, pollution, drug trafficking, smuggling, and illegal fishing.” In an e-mail interview with the author, an Uruguayan naval officer explained that “in Uruguayan waters there is an average of 200 vessels (cruising or anchored) carrying out different tasks. This volume means that without proper control of maritime traffic, the probability of accidents and incidents escalates.” The officer also highlighted the necessity of a coastal surveillance network for Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) to aid the activities of the (yet to be acquired) OPVs and their support helicopters.

While this analysis is focusing on the Uruguayan Navy’s platforms and equipment, it is necessary to briefly mention personnel woes. The Uruguayan officer explained to the author that it is also vitally important “to retain our personnel and prevent a migration to the private sector as they seek salary improvements.” The problem of preventing qualified military personnel from migrating to better paid (and less dangerous) positions in the private sector is an issue that affects many militaries across the world.

The UNCLCS Ruling

It is in this problematic situation that the UNCLCS’s ruling enters the equation. Montevideo first requested the UNCLCS to expand its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in 2009. “Uruguay has a special interest in expanding its continental shelf rights since it is currently involved in the search for oil and gas in the so called Punta del Este basin,” explained a September 2009 report by MercoPress.

According to Uruguayan media, a Uruguayan delegation met with a UNCLCS commission 21 times to argue its case between 2011 and 2015. The aforementioned naval officer also highlighted the role of the oceanographic vessel Oyarvide and the Navy’s Oceanographic, Hydrographic, and Meteorological Service in contributing to the case made to the UNCLCS.

In 2016, Uruguay presented its case to the plenary of the UNCLCS and the Commission decided in favor of Montevideo’s request to expand its continental shelf to a total of 350 nautical miles on 30 August. According to IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, “the new territory grants mineral and resource rights over the continental shelf (sea floor) but it does not grant fishing rights over the new area.” Meanwhile, the Uruguayan daily El Observador explains that the country now has more maritime territory than dry land.

The UNCLCS’s decision has been a massive victory for the administration of President Tabaré Vázquez. In fact, the Uruguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rodolfo Nin Novoa, has declared “nobody can do anything [in these waters] without Uruguay’s authorization.” The minister’s statement was perhaps too bold as the aforementioned Admiral Alonso has highlighted the problematic situation of the Navy while Defense Minister Jorge Menendez has stressed the need for USD $250 million to upgrade the fleet (namely to acquire the OPVs).

One Possible Way Forward

The expansion of Uruguay’s continental shelf should serve as a starting point for a discussion about the future of its Navy. Given the lack of an external security threat (the author has discussed South Atlantic geopolitics in a 17 February commentary for CIMSEC, “How Peaceful is the South Atlantic?”), particularly as the pulp mill diferendum with Argentina appears to have been solved, the Uruguayan armed forces have had to reinvent themselves in recent decades to justify their existence. Case in point, the country is a major supplier of peacekeepers to the United Nations – as of 31 August, Uruguay has a contingent of 1,457 troops participating in UN peacekeeping missions.

Regarding the Navy, its current and future challenges are transnational and irregular in nature. Rather than worrying about the Brazilian nuclear or Scorpene submarines appearing on its coast, the major maritime security threats include drug trafficking, illegal fishing, maritime pollution, as well as search and rescue operations.

Illegal fishing is a major problem for governments around the world, and the South Atlantic already has the precedent of the March incident between the Argentine Coast Guard and an illegal Chinese fishing fleet that highlights the need for a well-equipped and modern fleet that can chase and detain (or sink, if violence is necessary) illegal fishing vessels. To this point, the Uruguayan daily El Pais has noted that the country’s waters have fish species like merluza (a cod-like fish), the pescadilla (whiting) and the corvina, which must be protected from illegal fishing.

Another task for the Navy’s future will be to protect future oil platforms that may be constructed in Uruguay’s maritime waters. As a matter of fact, France’s Total company (with U.S. ExxonMobil and Norway’s Statoil as partners) has been looking for oil in Uruguayan and South Atlantic waters, though unsuccessfully so far. The South Atlantic does not have a piracy problem in the sense of oil platforms being at risk of criminal attack. However, if a Deepwater Horizon-type accident were to occur in one of these new wells, the Navy must have capable vessels able to rescue workers in peril and contain potential oil spills and other destruction. It is worth noting that just in late September the aforementioned Audaz and Artigas had to assist the Fortune Harmony, a tanker that had a fire aboard while 20 miles off Piriapolis, Uruguay.

KD Darussalam, the first of the four OPVs built by Lurssen for the Royal Brunei. (luerssen-defence.com/)
KD Darussalam, the first of the four OPVs built by Lurssen for the Royal Brunei. (luerssen-defence.com)

For these operations, the Navy requires new sea platforms, namely OPVs, to support and eventually replace the antiquated vessels it currently operates,  as well as a coastal monitoring network. While this author is not qualified to properly discuss the training of Uruguayan naval officers as well as the budgetary issues, the problem of preventing well-trained personnel from migrating to the private sector affects the Uruguayan Navy like in other defense forces across the world.

Final Thoughts

Proper surveillance of the extended continental shelf is a critical task for the Uruguayan Navy and will be the cornerstone of its maritime strategy going forward. Incidents like the March clash between Argentina and illegal Chinese fishing vessels (illegal fishing), or the recent Fortune Harmony incident (disasters at sea and possible pollution) are reminders of why it is a priority for a nation with a large continental shelf to have a modern fleet capable of adapting to different scenarios.

With that said, Uruguay’s history and current South Atlantic geopolitics argue that the possibility of inter-state warfare is minimal. Hence, Uruguay must upgrade its Navy, not just in terms of new platforms, radars and helicopters, but also its mission in the 21st century.

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: Uruguay navy ship. (aeromarine.com.uy)

Naval Applications of Robotic Birds

Naval Applications of Tech

Written by Terence Bennett, Naval Applications of Tech discusses how emerging and disruptive technologies can be used to make the U.S. Navy more effective. It examines potential and evolving developments in the tech industry, communication platforms, computer software and hardware, mechanical systems, power generation, and other areas.

“The most damaging phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way!’” Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper in an interview in Information Week, March 9, 1987, p. 52

By Terence Bennett

The era of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has arrived. Phased implementation of the Navy MQ-XX program began this year through a reinvestment in the X-47B unmanned aircraft for use in aerial refueling and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). In May of this year the Navy installed the first UAV Command Center aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. These moves demonstrate the need for, and versatility of, sea-based UAVs, and may signal the beginning of a revolutionary migration in naval warfare. Large, land-based ISR UAVs have been operationally employed by the Navy since 2008 with the deployment of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator (BAMS-D). Smaller, tactical level UAVs like the Scan Eagle have been in use by the Navy since 2004. To date, all these aircraft have one thing in common: they employ traditional aircraft design to meet their requirement for high power. A new generation of biomimetic UAVs that imitate the natural flight of birds has been developed and shows promising application to Navy missions.

The U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been working on insect-inspired UAVs recently popularized in the media. Some technology, like Aerovironment’s Hummingbird, has successfully implemented the design of bird flight into UAV design. A French inventor has created another little bird, but with a maritime twist. The Bionic Bird mimics the flight and behavior of the swallow and apparently so convincingly that it attracts other swallows and predators alike. Swallows are a common symbol in Navy life because they often appear when ships near land and are thus symbols of good luck.

The Bionic Bird (mybionicbird.com)

Edwin Van Ruymbeke, inventor of the $120 Bionic Bird,  proved that small, fast, and maneuverable machines can be inexpensively manufactured. The XTIM Bionic Bird is marketed as a toy, but its technology may prove useful to the Navy. One day, the Bionic Sparrow may visit ships bringing a lot more than good luck.

Using a similar approach, the German company Festo invented a larger UAV dubbed the ’Smartbird,’ which is modeled after a Herring Gull (or seagull).1 It looks surprisingly similar to a real seagull and, at a distance, could be easily disguised as one. The Smartbird’s clever engineering and lightweight design allow for its takeoff and flight to be powered entirely by the biomimicry-inspired twisting flap of its wings. The efficiency of the design is hidden in the specially-developed flapping motion, the size (6.5 foot wingspan), and the weight (1 lb) of the Smartbird. The Smartbird is powered by a 23 Watt motor which, to put in perspective, is roughly the power consumption of a small household fan (model Honeycomb HT-900). This low power requirement is truly remarkable and opens possibilities for major advances in UAV technology.

Although NASA has made many breakthroughs in the deployment of high-efficiency, high-altitude, solar-powered UAVs, the Smartbird offers a very promising solution for application in the low altitude naval environment. The 23 Watt motor of the Smartbird could be charged through a small (2 square foot) solar panel on its wings. The primary problem with solar-power solutions in aviation is weight. The Smartbird works because it is light, so to add any substantial weight to it nullifies the advances of the technology. Through modeling the efficiencies between power and weight, researchers may be able to develop a deployable Smartbird technology with payload carrying capability. An exciting application of this technology would be an ultra-efficient communication relay that could follow a strike group indefinitely and provide a dedicated over-the-horizon data link for the geographic area. This would reduce the need for each ship to have a dedicated satellite communication link and could provide for greater redundancy of systems.

Clear Air Solutions’ Robird (Clear Flight Solutions)

In some civilian airports and harbors, biomimetic UAVs are already providing a significant contribution to operations through bird control. Clear Flight Solutions manufactures the Robird for use at airports and harbor facilities because of its ability to prevent the loitering and nesting of small birds. The Department of Defense, which reports roughly 3000 bird strikes a year, is bound by strict federal legislation when it comes to the conservation of bird species. A 2002 federal court ruling actually shut down Navy training in Guam due to the violation of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Robird may be a new and exciting tool for the Navy to efficiently and sustainably control bird populations and their very real effect on Navy operations.

This new generation of energy efficient, quiet, and innocuous UAVs has tremendous potential for intelligence collection, communication relay, and even the mundane task of bird control. Future maritime UAVs will likely serve the fleet in many ways while blending into the horizon like the many birds we rarely notice. By taking a hint from nature, we can adapt our UAVs to have the same advantages that maritime birds have over land-based birds. This may mean long-range travel, survivability in high winds, and even high-speed predatory diving. It is remarkable what we can learn from nature and copy for the Navy’s use.

LT Bennett is a former Surface Warfare Officer and current Intelligence Officer. The views express 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 the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or any other U.S. Government agency.

1.”Festo: Smartbird.” Aerodynamic Lightweight Design with Active Torsion. April 2011. Accessed September 21, 2016. Aerodynamic lightweight design with active torsion.

Featured Image: X-47B in flight after first-ever catapult launch from USS George H.W. Bush in May 2013.(U.S. Navy)

Open Call for Articles: Navy Ratings, Philippine Alliance, New Marine Corps Operating Concept

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC is interested in publishing informed analysis on several trending issues outlined below. There is no deadline for submissions on the topics described. Draft articles, writing ideas, and questions should be sent to Nextwar@cimsec.org.

Navy Overhauls Enlisted Career Management

Navy leadership announced that it will end the use of the rating system in favor of a system of addressing rank similar to what is practiced in the other services. Statements from Navy spokesmen describe the intent of the change is “to develop a new approach to enlisted ratings that would provide greater detailing flexibility, training and credentialing opportunities, and ultimately translate Navy occupations more clearly to the American public.” Read NAVADMIN 218/16 here. 

U.S.-Philippine Alliance

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made public statements that challenge the U.S.-Philippine alliance and mil-to-mil relationship. President Duterte said “I would serve notice to you now that this will be the last military exercise,” and “Jointly, Philippines-US, the last one.” The State Department responded by stating “The bottom line is that we have significant security commitments with the Philippines,” and that “We’re committed to meeting those commitments and to furthering this relationship.”

New U.S. Marine Corps Operating Concept

The Marine Corps recently released a new operating concept to guide its development and remain relevant in future threat environments. The concept describes its central problem as “The Marine Corps is not organized, trained, and equipped to meet the demands of a future operating environment characterized by complex terrain, technology proliferation, information warfare, the need to shield and exploit signatures, and an increasingly non-permissive maritime domain.”

A summary of the concept states “The 21st century MAGTF conducts maneuver warfare in the physical and cognitive dimensions of conflict to generate and exploit psychological, technological, temporal, and spatial advantages over the adversary. The 21st century MAGTF executes maneuver warfare through a combined arms approach that embraces Information Warfare as indispensable for achieving complementary effects across five domains – air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace. The 21st century MAGTF avoids linear, sequential, and phased approaches to operations and blends maneuver warfare and combined arms to generate the combat power needed for simultaneity of action in its full range of missions. The 21st century MAGTF operates and fights at sea, from the sea, and ashore as an integrated part of the Naval force and the larger Combined/Joint force.” Read the concept here

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org

Featured Image: PANAMA CANAL (August 13, 2012) Sailors aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) watch as the ship travels through the Centennial Bridge during its transit through the Panama Canal on its return to the Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher S. Johnson/Released).

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.