OBANGAME EXPRESS 2015: Two steps forward. One step back.

Between 19 and 27 March OBANGAME EXPRESS, African Partnership Station’s annual exercise since 2011 took place off the coasts of West African states between Côte d’Ivoire and Angola. It is the fifth iteration of this exercise that has grown from nine participating nations in 2011 to 23 this year, including 12 Gulf of Guinea countries. Crucially, the framework for OBANGAME EXPRESS has changed since the last exercise. On 25 June 2013, 22 West and Central African countries signed the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, a document that obliges the member states to co-operate on preventing and prosecuting all forms of maritime crime and illicit activities at sea and to share information between each other. OBANGAME EXPRESS 2015 was the first exercise in this series to rehearse and test the new structure and, where they existed, procedures.

Broadly speaking, the Yaoundé Code of Conduct (YCoC) provides for a hierarchical information sharing and co-ordination structure that includes all countries from the two regional economic communities – the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). The YCoC structure envisages an Inter-regional Co-ordination Centre (ICC) for the strategic level, regional reporting centres for both ECOWAS and ECCAS and below those, for operational co-ordination, Multinational Co-ordination Centres (CMC), grouping the Gulf of Guinea countries into five zones: A, D, E, F and G.

The information sharing and reporting structure as envisaged by the Yaoundé Code of Conduct and the degree of implementation (in green) during OBANGAME EXPRESS 2015. (AFRICOM)
The information sharing and reporting structure as envisaged by the Yaoundé Code of Conduct and the degree of implementation (in green) during OBANGAME EXPRESS 2015. (AFRICOM)

One of the key differences of this year’s OBANGAME EXPRESS was that it took place off all the Gulf of Guinea states’ coasts rather than in a single exercise area. This made for a realistic setting regarding the command and control as well as logistical challenges for the region’s navies.  It also allowed the YCoC structures to be tested with realistic timeframes, as target vessels transited through the Gulf of Guinea nations’ waters. It also added another layer of complexity to the already very demanding schedule of OBANGAME EXPRESS 2014. Was it too much, given some of the modest outcomes of last year’s exercise? Was it an exercise in window dressing? Or is the Gulf of Guinea on a good path towards becoming part of the “global network of navies” as the exercise’s officer in tactical command, Commodore John Rinko (USN), predicted during the opening ceremony in Accra, Ghana? The truth, as always in this region, is probably somewhere in between.

The core functionality that this exercise tested was that of the 21 Maritime Operations Centres (MOCs) on national, sub-regional and regional levels and their ability to communicate, co-ordinate and direct maritime interdiction operations (MIO) represented on a tactical level by patrol boats, boarding teams and special forces teams.

It became clear during the exercise that the information flow functioned broadly as envisaged by the YCoC despite a lack of reporting standards and procedures, absence of a common interpretation of the situation picture, organisational and technical deficiencies (which affected some MOCs more than others). There is also still an overreliance of many MOCs on tracking vessels via their Automated Identification System (AIS) signals. Given that the majority of criminally active vessels in the Gulf do not broadcast this signal, in addition to an increasing number of merchant vessel switching off their AIS as a self-protection measure as per industry guidance, it effectively reduces any Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) capability to near zero outside coastal radar range. This is a particular challenge also for tracking and combating illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activities, since many fishing vessels do not have AIS transponders or choose to switch them off while poaching.


Additionally very few Gulf of Guinea nations, such as Ghana, have integrated their coastal radar stations into their MDA systems. Farther south, in the Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo and in Angola there is no meaningful coastal radar coverage at all at the moment. On a positive note: the Nigerian Navy, as the first Sub-Saharan navy ever, transmitted a radar picture via data link from a vessel to the MOC. Given the recent acquisition of three more large Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV), this at least opens the prospect for a better surveillance of the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

NNS OKPABANA intercepts the German frigate BRANDENBURG, which simulates a tanker carrying a cargo of stolen oil, on 24 March 2015. (Photo: German Navy/Steve Back)
NNS OKPABANA intercepts the German frigate BRANDENBURG, which simulates a tanker carrying a cargo of stolen oil, on 24 March 2015. (Photo: German Navy/Steve Back)

Beyond the artificiality of the exercise, however, old suspicions and prejudices are hard to eradicate. While Nigeria and Cameroon played their part well in exercising tracking and intercepting suspect vessels at the border between Zone E and Zone D, Cameroon does not grant Nigeria the right of hot pursuit into her territorial waters in real life. Equally, the Ghanaian chief of naval staff, Admiral Biekro, casually announced the formation of an “information-sharing coalition” comprising Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin, conspicuously leaving out the elephant in the room. Circumspection in sharing information with Nigeria is widespread in the northern part of the Gulf of Guinea and, based on the performance of Nigerian criminal networks and their current relationship with the Nigerian political and military elites, certainly justified.

Nevertheless the Nigerian Navy was determined to contribute as best as it could in the face of political constraints. The detachment of one of the Nigerian Air Force’s precious ATR-42 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), which are used as reconnaissance planes in the campaign against Boko Haram in Nigeria’s northeast, was a signal that, whatever the shortcomings, Nigeria was willing to engage. Only a few days later, the same MPA flew out to south of Sao Tomé to assist in the real-world episode of the scuttled IUU fishing vessel THUNDER. This mission, too, reflects the spirit of the YCoC; Sao Tomé lacks air assets for Search and Rescue (SAR) – for the purpose of the exercise this had been simulated just a few days earlier by a Portuguese Air Force P-3 Orion flying out of Sao Tomé.

On the tactical level, results were also mixed, ranging from pleasant surprises to disappointments. All navies struggled with the absence of formalised and trained procedures for Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO). The teams deployed by the African nations typically lacked consistent tactical skills for boat handling, boarding and close-quarter including room-clearing as well as command procedures. Poor communications equipment aggravated those shortcomings; usually only the team leader had a VHF radio to communicate with the mother ship. The dismal performance of the Nigerian SBS team was particularly disappointing after last year’s credible performance. However, this year’s team which boarded the German frigate BRANDENBURG in an opposed boarding scenario was actually a land-trained team that had seen combat in Nigeria’s northeast. The tactical deficiencies that this team displayed are a lesson for those (especially in the private sector) who believe that combat experience alone is sufficient qualification for succeeding in maritime security missions.

Togo’s embryonic MIO capability on the other hand made visible progress since last year. While tactics where still not near anywhere that would enable the Togo Navy to carry out anything else than compliant boardings, the team appeared more professional and self-assured than last year. Once on board, the team, which included specialists from other agencies, made a good job of securing the crime scene and preserving and collecting evidence.

A Togolese soldier provides rearward security for the Togo boarding team on the bridge of the target vessel BRANDENBURG during OBANGAME EXPRESS 2015. (Photo: German Navy/Steve Back)
A Togolese soldier provides rearward security for the Togo boarding team on the bridge of the target vessel BRANDENBURG during OBANGAME EXPRESS 2015. (Photo: German Navy/Steve Back)

Ghana’s MIO teams for the exercise received a three-day pre-sail training by the German Navy’s naval infantry. It was also a useful lesson for the Ghana Navy that the exercise should really test real arrangements rather than such made specifically for the exercise. In this case Ghana had hand-picked four MIO-teams from different vessels for OBANGAME EXPRESS. Lack of familiarity of the boarding officers with their teams as well as the inclusion of non-naval specialists from the Police, Fisheries etc. made for very mixed results.

The risks of the lack of formalised procedures were apparent during the real world incidents of the MT MARIAM and FV LU RONG YUAN YU 917. Both vessels were hijacked by Nigerian criminals in January and February 2015 respectively and subsequently recovered by Ghana Navy boarding teams from the patrol boats BLIKA and CHEMLE, both of which took part in the exercise. In the case of the MT MARIAM luck and good improvisation played a great part in the success of the mission. The Ghana Navy boarded the tanker 26 nm outside the port of Tema (the BLIKA having unwittingly passed the tanker INVICTUS, which had siphoned off the MARIAM’s cargo, on the way) with a boarding team comprising a mere seven persons (in addition to the two-man crew of BLIKA’s sea boat). The fact that five of the eight suspected pirates on the MARIAM were hidden away in a water tank without guns only emerged after a while and after the initial team (of five persons) had almost given up the search. The remaining three suspects were holed up in the chain locker. One of the apprehended suspects from the water tank was used as a mixture of human shield and go-between when the Ghana Navy team had to approach the only entrance to the compartment through a narrow corridor. Fortunately, the three remaining suspects gave up and then, bizarrely, tried to hide themselves in the small compartment. In the end it was perhaps fortunate that, whether abetted by the MARIAM’s crew or not, the Nigerian criminals chose to place themselves into a position where the small Ghana Navy team could deal with it effectively. However, the vignette also holds a strong message that in the case of a non-compliant or opposed boarding this vessel recovery would not have gone ahead or if it had, could have ended in disaster due to the inadequacy of the boarding team.

From exercise to reality: GNS BILIKA’s boarding team boards MT MARIAM, a tanker that had been hijacked under dubious circumstances off the Niger Delta on 11 January 2015. (Photo: Ghana Navy)
From exercise to reality: GNS BILIKA’s boarding team boards MT MARIAM, a tanker that had been hijacked under dubious circumstances off the Niger Delta on 11 January 2015. (Photo: Ghana Navy)

The Ghana Navy’s Flag Officer Fleet, Commodore Mark Yawson, and the Director of Operations, Commander Derrick Attachie saw this exercise as an opportunity to improve and to identify what should be the navy’s priorities in training and procurement. Clearly, this is what an exercise is designed to do, but in some cases there remains some doubt that even though there is a will to address deficiencies identified in the exercise capabilities may not be available. Low operational readiness of some navies, absence of reliable fuel supplies (even for the exercise), systematic communications infrastructure shortfalls (poor internet, a “gap” between VHF and HF coverage at sea) are not problems easily addressed without a significant increase in funding, which is unlikely to be forthcoming in the short-term. Some improvements, while noteworthy and laudable, are improvements from an extremely low level, such as those made by Côte d’Ivoire, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo or Sao Tomé and Principe. In the latter case, in spite of great personal engagement by junior officers and NCOs, there appears to be very little top-level support. The evaluator for the Sao Tomé MOC pointed out that the centre did have a higher level of performance some years ago, but that it seemed the operation had been started from scratch again.

The true “success” of OBANGAME EXPRESS over the years is really in highlighting all these aspects and tracking progress – or absence thereof. The annual exercise also provides a benchmark and while the political message will always be one of continuous improvement, the analytic tools are actually fine-grained enough to register the nuances of change in either direction. As in 2014 the closer look at the individual results and how they came about raises the question of “sustainability” of the progress achieved so far. It is evident from this year’s results that gains made in the past can be lost in no time for as long as the effort does not become systemic.

There is a strong desire by the US to get other nations more involved in the maritime security effort. With the EU’s new Gulf of Guinea action plan the time may be auspicious to broaden the base of this capability-building effort with more permanent and long-term commitments by extra-regional powers (where this is desired), but with a view to “responsibility sharing”, rather than an open-ended engagement. This effort will be complex, given different priorities:  Europeans and Americans are worried about drug trafficking while most West African governments are more concerned with the smuggling of cigarettes and oil products. Piracy is another priority for the EU and the US while it is less important for many African politicians who have to fight against pirate fishing to be able to feed their growing populations. The road ahead is still long. And as this year’s exercise showed: it also is not straight.

Dirk Steffen is a Commander (senior grade) in the German Naval Reserve with 12 years of active service between 1988 and 2000. He took part in Exercise OBANGAME EXPRESS 2015 as an observer during the German Navy’s MIO-team training in Ghana before transferring to the Exercise Control Group as a Liaison Naval Officer. He is normally Director Maritime Security at Risk Intelligence when not on loan to the German Navy. He has been covering the Gulf of Guinea as a consultant and analyst since 2004. The opinions expressed here are his alone, and do not represent those of any German military or governmental institutions.

Sanctions and Grey on White: Raising the Stakes in the South China Sea

For years, there has been extensive talk of “managing” China’s rise, promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and lamenting Beijing’s encroachment in the South China Sea. The US has announced her “Pivot”, Japan has reinterpreted her constitution, the Philippines have initiated international arbitration proceedings, Vietnam has kept rearming, and Russia has kept including tactical nuclear weapons in her Far East “counter-terrorism” exercises, just to name some of the most relevant developments. To no avail, China has followed the same relentless path of territorial expansion, which reached a new plateau last year with the combined deployment of an oil rig supported by myriad fishing and state vessels near Vietnam, and the launch of a major reclamation drive, while naval construction continued apace, supported by the expansion of maritime militias. Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, there is some evidence that analysts are ready to consider measures almost unthinkable of until recently. In her recent report titled “Conflict in the South China Sea”, Bonnie S. Glaser (Senior Advisor for Asia, Center for Strategic and International Studies) has sent two significant shots across China’s bow, suggesting sanctions against energy companies involved in the South China Sea, and the use of US Navy warships against Chinese coastguard and other state vessels.

These two proposals may just be suggestions, but they merit careful examination on at least two counts. First of all, because they suggest novel solutions to a long-recognized problem, which current policy does not seem to be having a significant impact on. Second, because they come as some other voices are suggesting withdrawing from the South China Sea, giving up the region and concentrating on the First Island Chain. Such move may prompt a miscalculation by Beijing, and unravel the web of alliances among maritime democracies in the Pacific, including extended deterrence.

Sanctions against Chinese energy corporations

China’s rise rests on a combination of integration into the world economic system and use of limited force to achieve foreign policy goals. While the latter is often lamented, until recently the former has not been questioned. Proposals to deal with China’s rise have failed to contemplate sanctions as a tool to constrict Beijing’s behavior. It is true that, to some extent, a move away from manufacturing in China is already apparent. This seems to be, though, mostly due to economic reasons like rising relative wages and a wish for diversification. However, perhaps some “hidden sanctions” are already in place in the case of, for example, Japan, with some actors understanding that in the current atmosphere it is unwise to keep transferring manufacturing capacity to her neighbor.

Before examining sanctions, perhaps we should ask ourselves some questions. Do we really need China that much? Have many countries become over reliant on the Chinese market and Chinese capital fluxes, prompting Beijing to believe that she is so essential as to be indispensable? Is this one of the underlying causes of China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea? Does Beijing believe that economic factors guarantee a ceiling on any reaction by the maritime democracies, ruling out any meaningful response?

While we shall not try to answer them in detail, it seems clear that Beijing has indeed succeeded over the last three decades in becoming a pillar of the international economic system, as clear from, among others, the country’s significant portion of world manufacturing, her growing presence in many markets, the gradual internationalization of her currency, and her leading role as energy and commodities importer. Some voices doubt the sustainability of Chinese economic growth, but at least for the time being there is little doubt concerning its contribution to Chinese power and influence, as clear from Beijing’s latest move, setting up of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Thus sanctions, even if strictly limited and carefully targeted, should ideally be preceded by a debate on the above points. A debate bringing together specialists in economics and national security, two communities which do not always communicate that well.

Two important aspects of sanctions are their effective impact, and Beijing’s possible counter-sanctions. Concerning the former, it is unlikely at this stage that China would stop exploration and drilling in the South China Sea. Too much is at stake, in terms not only of national prestige and self-image, but also of economic development and national security. Furthermore, any suspicion of weakness in dealing with foreigners may be taken badly by citizens. Many observers stress how the Chinese regime is increasingly relying on nationalism to preserve its legitimacy, but a look at history shows how this has not just been one of the hallmarks of the CCP from day one, but how it runs deeper in contemporary Chinese history. The 100 anniversary of the Great War should serve as a reminder of how the May the 4th Movement erupted following the failure of the young republic to secure anything at Versailles, despite the contribution of the Chinese Labour Corps to the Allied victory. With regard to Chinese counter-sanctions, again this would be nothing new, since Beijing has never been shy over the last three decades in using her economic might to achieve foreign policy goals. Just to mention an example, forcing the Netherlands to stop submarine sales to Taiwan. Thus, any detailed proposal for sanctions should contemplate the different scenarios, their impact, and how to react to them. This does not mean that the shadow of Chinese reprisals should rule out any sanctions policy. This self-defeating view would only embolden Beijing. What it means is that we must recognize that playing the sanctions card demands a re-examination of economic relations with China, something perhaps necessary anyway, given the destabilizing impact of persistent trade surpluses and the accompanying capital flows. Thus, by upping the ante in the South China Sea the maritime democracies may be killing two birds with a stone, making it clear to Beijing that they are not surrendering, and bringing forward a very necessary but much long delayed debate on the place of the Chinese economy in the world.

Grey on white

Glaser argues that “The United States should be prepared to respond to future Chinese coercive acts including using U.S. naval forces to deter China’s continuing use of “white hulled” paramilitary vessels”. Concerning this, it is clear that Washington cannot stand idle as the South China Sea, not only because of its importance in terms of SLOCs (sea lines of communication), but because it would mean an open door to further acts of aggression, the loss of American credibility, and serious doubts about extended deterrence in the Pacific. It is also clear that, since the United States do not have coast guard or equivalent units deployed in theater, or large numbers of trawlers and merchantmen capable of being employed in a dual role, a symmetric national response to China’s tactics is not possible. Does this mean that the US Navy should be employed against Chinese coastguard and other state vessels? It is indeed a possibility, but it raises many questions, and ideally a discussion should be accompanied by a parallel examination of alternative options.

When discussing gray on white, natural caution and fears of escalation militate against this possibility. Yet, at the same time, the question arises why we should play by China’s rules. For years, the mantra that navies only confront navies, has mainly benefited China. There is no much point in reinforcing the US Navy in the Pacific if it is forced to contemplate, impotent, how Beijing achieves her goals using a mixture of other assets, from oil rigs to fishing vessels, including maritime militias and state vessels. Letting the other side lay down the rules is a sure way to defeat. A problem, though, is that conventional naval vessels are designed with lethal force in mind. Thus, other than ramming other ships or blocking their way, the other manners in which they may be employed would involve kinetic means leading to loss of life and a substantial escalation. Concerning ramming and blocking, the United States simply lacks the numbers to respond in this way. There is some quality to quantity, and Chinese numbers are simply impressive.

China knows that other countries do not want to be seen as having fired the first shot in what may soon turn into a regional conflagration. The challenge then is how to avoid firing that first shot, without losing the current limited conflict already taking place in the South China Sea. Escalation may not be an alternative option, but surrender is not either. Glaser’s suggestion should not be dismissed out of hand, and in doctrinal terms could be compared to Russia’s concept of “de-escalation”, raising a confrontation by one notch in order to bring it down. The problem is not doctrinal, but political, since it is doubtful whether maritime democracies are ready to follow this approach. However, there are other alternatives that merit some serious discussion. Just to mention one, a permanent land deployment in disputed islands, before China had the chance to seize them, could exert a stabilizing influence. Such deployments may be carried out by the countries involved, yet with a US rotational presence. This would not only aid in developing the necessary interoperability skills, but would send a powerful signal to Beijing, avoiding any perception that the South China Sea is just home to some far away rocks of little concern for Washington and thus ripe for the taking when the moment is right.

Conclusions: a first step in the right direction.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Contingency Planning Memorandum Update is a step in the right direction, putting on the table two options hitherto considered taboo in discussions on how to deal with the South China Sea conflict. At a time when some other observers are suggesting we scuttle the Pacific, using some to the same words (like “rocks” and “far away”) that history shows prompt miscalculations by would-be aggressors, they make it clear that the game is not over yet. Maritime democracies may lose it, but not without a fight.

Concerning sanctions, they would show Beijing that other countries mean business, and are ready to go beyond posturing. While unlikely, at least in the short term, to change Chinese behavior, their absence from the negotiating table weakens the maritime democracies’ case. Any detailed consideration of this weapon, however, requires not only an examination of the different retaliation scenarios, but a wider reflection of the Chinese economy’s place in the world financial system. An examination that is anyway necessary, and has been unduly delayed, and which is therefore an additional reason to seriously consider Glaser’s words.

With regard to gray on white, the current dogma that navies only fight navies is clearly benefiting Beijing and can no longer be merely repeated mantra-like, unless we are ready to lose the battle while some of the most powerful weapons simply look on. However, this does not mean that this is the only option, or that it is one politically acceptable. Thus, the time has come to examine the different possibilities, one being the permanent deployment of land forces on disputed islands, with a rotational US presence.

Alex Calvo, a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan), focuses on security and defence policy, international law, and military history, in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. He tweets at Alex__Calvo and his work, which includes “China’s Air Defense Identification Zone: Concept, Issues at Stake and Regional Impact”, Naval War College Press Working Papers, No 1, US Naval War College,  23 December 2013, available at http://www.usnwc.edu/Publications/Working-Papers/Documents/WP1-Calvo.aspx,  can be found at https://nagoya-u.academia.edu/AlexCalvo

Joint Warrior 2015 Infographic


Joint Warrior is the twice-yearly UK-led NATO exercise in Scotland involving both sea, air and land assets.

Joint Warrior 15-1 has gathered 55 ships, a similar number of planes, and 14,000 personnel from 14 countries. It will run from 11 to 24 April. The maritime part of the exercise will focus on mine warfare and fast attack craft swarming-attacks.2121

Two standing NATO mine counter-measures groups (SNMCMG1, SNMCMG2), including mine countermeasures vessels (MCMV) from 8 countries, arrived in Faslane (30km from Glasgow) earlier last week.

German and Norwegian fast attack craft (FAC) were deployed as well: 6 Gepard-class fast attack craft of the German navy (P6122 Puma, P6123 Hermerlin, P6125 Zobel, P6126 Frettchen, P6129 Wiesel, P6130 Hyäne) and the two Skjold-class stealth corvettes of the Royal Norwegian Navy. The German Gepard-class is an evolution of the Albatros-class, modernized with the addition of a GDC-RAM launcher. The Norwegian P960 Skjold and P962 Skudd are capable of reaching 60 knots and carrying 8 NSM anti-ship missiles.

This edition of Joint Warrior is the largest to date, and could be compared to RIMPAC, although RIMPAC2014 gathered 55 ships, 200 aircraft and 25.000 personnel. Thus, JW151 is 140 aircraft and 10,000 personnel smaller than RIMPAC2014.

This extraordinary participation in a NATO exercise may come in reaction to Russia’s increasingly aggressive posture towards Europe since March 2014. Over both Europe and Japan, Russian strategic bomber flights are becoming more and more frequent.

Louis Martin-Vézian is the co-president of the French chapter at CIMSEC.org, and the founder of CIGeography, where he posts his maps and infographics on various security and defense topics. He is currently studying Geography and Political Science in Lyon, France.


Sea Control 75 – Surface Fleet Warfare Tactics Instructors

seacontrol2RDML James Kilby, Commander of the Naval Surface Warfighting Development Center, joins to discuss the new Warefare Tactics Instructor program he is leading. Some of the newest officers with the newest tactics are being brought together to build a cadre of warfighting experts. These junior experts will be used to spread war fighting capability and updated knowledge to the fleet.

Surface Fleet Warfare Tactics Instructors

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Host and Production: Matthew Hipple
Audio Refinement: Dmitry Filipof
Break Song: Sam LaGrone

Members’ Roundup Part 19

Welcome back to another edition of the member roundup. We have a variety of topics covered by CIMSECians across the globe this week, ranging from the US Rebalance to the future of US air combat superiority.

On the US Naval Institute’s blog, Roger Misso writes a response to Anna Grenville’s blogpost at Task and Purpose. Titled ‘4 Reasons I Am Resigning My Commission As A Naval Officer,’ she provides some insight as to why her, and others, decide to leave the profession. Miss agrees on many points raised in the original article but offers a counter-narrative: junior officers can build the service we want. This, of course, is only facilitated if the junior officer corps reaches critical mass and carries their views through the ranks. You can access Roger’s post here.

Over at The National Interest, Dave Majumdar provides a roundup of the top five lethal American weapons of war. From the Gatling gun to stealth bombers, he analyses why these weapon systems make it onto the list. The second article questions whether the next generation of fighters will be capable of dominating the skies. The F-35 program has come under intense scrutiny over the years, ranging from project delays to criticisms over its air combat capability.


Dean of the Fletcher Law School, James Stavridis, returns in this week’s edition with two articles. The first titled ‘The Arab NATO’ appeared in Foreign Policy, and assesses the development of the 40,000-strong Arab League response force. It is clearly poised to counter Iran’s potential rise post-negotiations. In the second article, featured in The Hill, Stavridis explains why we need a ‘consumer protection act’ for the cyber threat data market. Given that cyber threats span public, private and non-profit sectors, it is time to adopt more appropriate measures for dealing with this commodity in less regressive terms. You can access both articles here and here, respectively.

Zachary Keck returns in this edition with two articles in the past week. The first explores the future of US Air Combat superiority. Based on a new Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment report, Keck cites several dissenting claims against the findings of the report. The second article reports that China’s anti-satellite capabilities are well on track to be able to destroy satellites beyond low orbit.

Lauren Dickey guest blogs with Janine Davidson over at the Council on Foreign Relations, this week, exploring the current state of the US Rebalance. There is a tendency in Washington circles to draw sweeping policy judgments with few facts to back them up. The actual numbers, however, indicate that the policy shift remains on track. You can access Lauren’s article here.

The U.S.-Australia Force Posture Agreement ensures both that 2,500 Marines rotate annually through Darwin for the next twenty-five years and that U.S. military and intelligence representation at Australian facilities continues.
The U.S.-Australia Force Posture Agreement, part of the Rebalance, ensures both that 2,500 Marines rotate annually through Darwin for the next twenty-five years and that U.S. military and intelligence representation at Australian facilities continues.

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on the NextWar blog or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

Maritime Security Cooperation and the Coast Guard

By Derek S. Reveron

Given shrinking global fleets and growing seaborne challenges, the United States has embraced security cooperation to augment its own force to improve maritime security around the world.[1] The country looks to its partners to address sub-national and transnational actors who generate maritime insecurity. As such, the U.S. builds global maritime partnerships to respond to piracy, illicit trafficking, and other illegal activities to protect important sea-lanes. And where limited capacity exists, the United States helps to build national capabilities with new countries such as East Timor, post-conflict countries such as Liberia, or long-time allies such as the Philippines.

.S. Coast Guard Ensign looks for safety hazards from aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Forward's bridge as the ship docks at the pier in Monrovia, Liberia, during an international mission in support of the Africa Partnership Station (APS) June 17, 2011.
Coast Guard Ensign looks for safety hazards from aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Forward’s bridge as the ship docks at the pier in Monrovia, Liberia, during an international mission in support of the Africa Partnership Station (APS) June 17, 2011.

This effort to build global maritime partnerships is not new. A decade ago, Vice Admiral Morgan and Rear Admiral Martogolio wrote, “policing the maritime commons will require substantially more capability than the United States or any individual nation can deliver.”[2] This thinking underlies the tri-service maritime strategy signed by the Coast Guard Commandant, Chief of Naval Operations, and Commandant of the Marine Corps. The strategy called for fostering critical relationships overseas, screening ships bound for our ports, and responding to threats approaching our coastline.[3] To be effective, the partnerships include navies, coast guards, commercial shipping companies, and port operators. This is logically based on the importance of seaborne trade, the size of the world’s oceans, and interconnectedness of the maritime transportation system.

There is renewed interest in protecting the maritime commons. The United Nations General Assembly is “concerned that marine pollution from all sources, including vessels and, in particular, land-based sources, constitutes a serious threat to human health and safety, endangers fish stocks, marine biodiversity and marine and coastal habitats and has significant costs to local and national economies.”[4] Many countries lack the resources to protect their fisheries and enforce environmental laws giving rise to security deficits on the seas. This lack of government presence further enables criminal groups to traffic drugs, people, and weapons. They thrive in the vastness of the oceans and relative lack of maritime domain awareness or response capabilities in most of the world. The result is that Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations generate, remove, and launder between $18 billion and $39 billion in wholesale drug proceeds annually.[5] These groups use the profits to equip themselves with the latest equipment and employ various means such as semi-submersible vehicles, which challenge governments’ abilities to interdict.

To meet these challenges, partners generate demands for U.S. assistance. When the Caribbean was identified as America’s third border, for example, the Caribbean Community and the Dominican Republic “recognize[d] the importance of close cooperation to combat new and emerging transnational threats that endanger the very fabric of our societies.”[6] U.S.-Caribbean engagement programs are designed to enhance cooperation in the diplomatic, security, economic, environmental, health and education arenas. Through the Central American Regional Security Initiative, for example, partner countries supported 67 percent of illicit trafficking disruptions in 2012.[7]


A Coast Guardsman trains with foreign servicemembers.
A Coast Guardsman trains with foreign servicemembers.

For the United States, the global illicit drug trade is a significant transnational security threat that undermines democratic governments, terrorizes populations, impedes economic development, and hinders regional stability. The UN Office of Drug Control and Crime Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa warned that, “States in the Caribbean, Central America and West Africa, as well as the border regions of Mexico, are caught in the crossfire between the world’s biggest coca producers, the Andean countries, and the biggest consumers, North America and Europe.”[8] This formulation places Caribbean countries as victimized bystanders to a Yankee drug problem[9], but the State Department recognized that this view is changing and partners see drug trafficking as a shared problem in that “We all face a thinking, well-financed enemy and we must all, every legitimate nation-state and international authority, work together to thwart this network.”[10]

Indeed, there is a shared insecurity enabling cooperation on shared challenges like transnational organized crime. But this has not been easy. Drug traffickers successfully exploit weak security institutions and take advantage of political tension created by U.S. drug policy and declining presence. The challenge for the United States, however, is to build renewed relationships without overwhelming these countries with its military and law enforcement efforts. With its intervention history and large size, the U.S. military too easily scares its partners. The U.S. Marine Corps, for example, is larger than almost every country’s military in the Western Hemisphere and Africa. Further, a slowing defense budget is reducing military deployments in the Western Hemisphere where the Coast Guard already supplies the bulk of ships and aircraft to disrupt drugs bound for the United States.[11]

Royal Malaysian Navy sailors stand security watch during a boarding exercise aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Mellon as part of Southeast Asia Cooperation Against Terrorism 2010. SEACAT is a weeklong at-sea exercise designed to highlight the value of information sharing and multinational coordination.
Royal Malaysian Navy sailors stand security watch during a boarding exercise aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Mellon as part of Southeast Asia Cooperation Against Terrorism 2010. SEACAT is a weeklong at-sea exercise designed to highlight the value of information sharing and multinational coordination.

Maritime security cooperation can offset U.S. absence and empower its partners. Under international law, countries have basic obligations under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. These laws form the basis of partnerships as countries seek to prevent security incidents on ships and in ports through the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code.[12] And trust can be reaffirmed through programs like the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Container Security Initiative to reduce illicit trafficking. While countries ratify these agreements, they often lack the maritime capability and capacity to patrol their waterways, ports, and territorial waters.

Given its history, law enforcement capabilities, and place in the federal government, the U.S. Coast Guard is well-positioned to build partnerships and promote maritime security. Under Title 14 of the U.S. Code, the Coast Guard has jurisdiction both in territorial waters and on the high seas. As the service responsible for protecting U.S. ports and its lead responsibility for maritime drug interdiction, the Coast Guard has the expertise and experience to work with maritime partners around the world. While the Coast Guard has no independent funding authority to conduct security cooperation, it can draw program support from the Foreign Assistance Act and Section 1206 of Title 10, which provides funding for international education, training and equipment.

Congress intended international military education and training (IMET) to accomplish three principal goals. First, foster increased understanding between the United States and foreign countries in order to enhance international peace and security. Next, enable participating countries to become more self-reliant by improving their ability to utilize defense resources obtained through foreign military financing (FMF). Finally, increase the awareness of internationally recognized human rights issues.[13]

The Coast Guard provides international education at its Academy and technical training through its various schools. New London counts 114 international cadet graduates since 1971, while schools and mobile training teams train thousands of students annually from more than 80 countries.[14] In support of U.S. embassies around the world, the Coast Guard conducts boarding officer training, engages with maritime police, and trains search and rescue personnel so countries can meet their international legal obligations. International coast guard officers also attend DOD-funded schools such as the US Naval War College, where it can count among its alumni the current heads of coast guards in Bangladesh, Belize, Cape Verde, Jamaica, and Seychelles.

Augmenting military training and education is the FMF program that supplies grants and loans to finance American weapons and military equipment purchases. Working with allies and partners, the United States seeks to develop regional capabilities to protect trade, natural resources, and economic development. This includes establishing maritime domain awareness through the automated identification system, an array of coastal radar systems, and improved command and control. Most countries lack significant maritime capacity to protect their territorial waters let alone their Exclusive Economic Zones. Nigeria, for example, which is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa, counts about 7,000 maritime enforcement personnel with several offshore patrol vessels to include former US Coast Guard cutters Gallatin and Chase. More broadly, the Coast Guard supported delivery of over 300 vessels and trained the crews of 56 countries.[15] Through FMF, excess defense articles programs, and other authorities, the United States transfers weapons to increase maritime capacity.

Security cooperation also includes maritime security sector reform, which is an area of increasing importance. Sustained maritime security sector reform includes governance, civil and criminal authority, defense, safety, response and recovery, and economy.[16] It focuses on improving civil-military relations, promoting collaboration among regional partners, and fostering cooperation within partners’ governments. The United States has learned that contemporary security challenges often require whole-of-government solutions and regional cooperation. Consequently, it seeks to foster this same approach around the world. Programs support legislative reform (e.g. seizing assets from drug traffickers), enhancing cooperation between police and defense forces (e.g. building bridges among bureaucratic rivals), and managing the legacy of past human rights abuses (e.g. integrating human rights training in programs).

To be sure, the United States has a long history of global presence and supporting almost every country in the world. Fiscal austerity is likely to restrict this presence, yet security cooperation can offset U.S. assets through U.S. partners. As my colleague Ivan Luke has written, “strategists and practitioners will need to be smart about how they approach peacetime missions.”[17] With growing international trade and security deficits, the Coast Guard’s unique civil-military blend makes it an ideal service to conduct maritime security cooperation.

Derek Reveron is a professor of national security affairs and the EMC Informationist Chair at the U.S. Naval War College and author of Exporting Security: International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the U.S. Military. These views are his own.

[1] Derek S. Reveron, Exporting Security: International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the U.S. Military, (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2010).

[2] Vice-Admiral John Morgan, Jr. and Captain Charles Martoglio, “The 1,000-Ship Navy: Global Maritime Network,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 131, (November 2005), p. 18.

[3] Cooperative Strategy for Twenty-First Century Seapower, October 2007.

[4] February 28, 2008.

[5] Office of National Drug Control Policy, National Drug Threat Summary, (Washington, DC: ONDCP, 2009) http://www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs31/31379/index.htm

[6] “U.S./CARICOM/Dominican Republic Statement on Third Border Initiative,” January 14,2004. http://www.america.gov/st/washfile-english/2004/January/20040114144116nesnom0.569256.html#ixzz0AZrjgdVl

[7] U.S. Southern Command, “Posture Statement of General John F. Kelly, United States Marine Corps Commander, United States Southern Command before the 113th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee,” March 19, 2013.

[8] Quoted in UN Office of Drugs and Crime, Annual Report 2009, (New York: United Nations, 2009),  11. http://www.unodc.org/unodc/data-and-analysis/WDR.html

[9] Horace A. Bartilow and Kihong Eom, “Busting Drugs While Paying with Crime,” Foreign Policy Analysis, Vol. 5, Iss 2, (April 2009), pp. 93-116.

[10] Department of State, International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, (Washington, DC: Department of State, 2008). http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2008/vol1/html/100772.htm

[11] U.S. Southern Command, “Posture Statement of General John F. Kelly, United States Marine Corps Commander, United States Southern Command before the 113th Congress House Armed Services Committee,” February 26, 2014.

[12] ISPS is an amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention (1974/1988).

[13] Committee on International Relations and Committee on Foreign Relations, Legislation on Foreign Relations through 2002, (Washington, DC: Congress, 2003), chapter 5.

[14] U.S. Coast Guard, International Training Handbook, Edition 14, p. 12.

[15] U.S. Coast Guard, International Training Handbook, Edition 14, p. 12.

[16] Maritime Security Sector Reform Guide, December 2010.

[17] Ivan Luke, “Naval Operations in Peacetime: Not Just ‘Warfare Lite,’” Naval War College Review, Spring 2013, p. 24.

Coast Guard Budget Battles Revisited

Post by Chuck Hill

Why does the Coast Guard seem to be losing the budget battle within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)? While funding for the Department has grown, the Coast Guard budget has in fact declined in real terms. I suspect it has a lot to do with perceptions of a miss-match between DHS missions and Coast Guard missions.

Congress attempted to address this perceived mismatch in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 by requiring an annual report of resources allocated to DHS missions and non-DHS missions, to ensure non-DHS missions are not ignored. I will refer to this “Annual Review of  the  United States Coast  Guard’s  Mission  Performance” (pdf) as the Performance Report.

It is an interesting report, but it does have significant weaknesses, largely stemming from the use of undifferentiated and undefined “resource hours” as a measure of effort. I reviewed a report back in 2010 and offered my criticisms, which have not changed herehere, and here.

Unfortunately, I think this report may be part of the problem, in that it defines several Coast Guard missions as “non-DHS,” and it gives the impression, erroneously I believe, that roughly half of the Coast Guard’s budget goes for things outside the DHS charter.

Of the eleven Coast Guard missions, six were regarded as Non-Homeland Security missions: SAR, AtoN, Living Marine Resources, Marine Environmental Protection, Marine Safety, and Ice Operations.

The five Homeland Security missions are Ports, waterways, and coastal security, Drug Interdiction, Undocumented Migrant Interdiction, Defense Readiness, and Other Law Enforcement (primarily Foreign Fisheries Enforcement).

But these distinctions are fallacious.

The Department views its own missions as:

  1. Preventing Terrorism and Enhancing Security
  2. Securing and managing our borders
  3. Enforcing and administering our Immigration laws
  4. Safeguarding and securing cyberspace
  5. Ensuring resilience to Disaster

NON-DHS MISSIONS: All these missions, at least in some respects, support DHS missions.

SAR: A robust SAR organization is clearly a necessary foundation for “Ensuring resilience to Disaster.” What were Katrina and Sandy but huge SAR cases? SAR command posts and communications are the skeletal structure upon which Disaster Response is based. After all, every SAR case is really a response to a disaster of some dimension. If the 3,000 plus people the CG saves every year had died in a single incident, it would have been a disaster on the order of 9/11.

AtoN: Most of the population lives near the coast or inland waterways. Most depend heavily on marine transportation and in many cases fishing. When there is a disaster, restoring safe navigation is a high priority both for bringing in assistance and for recovery.

Marine Environmental Protection (MEP):  The Deepwater Horizon was a disaster. MEP regulation attempts head off disasters and mitigate its effects, that is “ensuring resilience to disaster” plus offshore and port-side energy infrastructure are potential terrorists targets.

Marine Safety: Marine Safety is designed to prevent marine disasters. A sunken cruise ship could be a disaster on the order of 9/11. Marine Safety standards tends to mitigate the effects of a terrorist attack on marine targets

Living Marine Resources: Destruction of valuable marine resources can actually be as disaster for the economy of some communities.

Ice Operations: Domestic icebreakers can prevent flooding. We recently had a case where a community in Alaska would have been left without fuel, if an icebreaker had not opened a path for delivery.


Safeguarding and securing cyberspace: It is not one of the Coast Guard’s eleven statutory missions, but this is in fact one of the Commandant’s key priorities. Still it is not addressed in the Coast Guard’s annual Performance Report.

THE NON-DHS DHS MISSIONS: Two missions listed as DHS missions in fact are of little interest to the department, and performance goals (which are themselves perhaps inadequate) in these two areas are not being met.

Defense Readiness: Apparently the Coast Guard is doing more for Defense Readiness now than it was before 9/11, but really little has been done in terms of adapting resources for wartime roles. Additionally, a potentially major Coast Guard contribution to defense readiness, the major cutters, are being replaced at such a slow rate, the fleet continues to age, making it less reliable.

Other Law Enforcement (primarily foreign fisheries): DHS probably has little interest in this. This mission also suffers from the aging of the cutter fleet, and additionally the very large US EEZ in the Western Pacific has been largely ignored.

Problems in DHS: I do think the Departments placement of priority on counter-terrorism over more general disaster response is misplaced,  and this is another source of problems.


I will quote my closing paragraph from my 2010 post,

When it comes time to decide the Coast Guard budget, I would suggest Congress take a different approach. Consider return on investment. If you like the return you are getting from the Coast Guard now, invest more.  Don’t say, “Agency ‘X’ isn’t working, we need to put more money into that.” “The Coast Guard, is doing a good job with their current budget so we don’t need to give them any more.” I don’t quote scripture very often. I’m not religious, but there is some wisdom there. Check out the story of the “good and faithful servant” Matthew 25:14-30.


This article can be found in its original form on Chuck Hill’s CG blog.  Chuck retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years service. Assignments included four ships, Rescue Coordination Center New Orleans, CG HQ, Fleet Training Group San Diego, Naval War College, and Maritime Defense Zone Pacific/Pacific Area Ops/Readiness/Plans. Along the way he became the first Coast Guard officer to complete the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) course and also completed the Naval Control of Shipping course. He has had a life-long interest in naval ships and history.

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