Invite to CIMSEC SCS Wargame Crowd-Sourcing Phase

The Economist SCS ClaimsThis year, CIMSEC’s DC chapter is holding a series of participatory events focusing on different maritime security challenges and disputes. To do so, we’re using an experimental event format with elements of wargamming, simulation, ideation, and crowd-sourcing to elicit creative insights. Our live events will be followed by online crowd-sourcing phases in which the outputs the CIMSEC community at large is invited to participate.

The first of these events attempts to aid crisis management planners dealing with the South China Sea by cataloging the range of possible actions and drawing insights about their potential effectiveness in achieving their initiator’s objectives.

The objectives developed by each of the country teams are listed on our wargames page. To participate, help us evaluate the developed actions on their effectiveness here. If you have a potential action you’d like to propose as part of the crowd-sourcing phase, you can also do so at the above link – just ensure you are not duplicating an existing entry. The first stage will begin with claimant state actions. Non-claimant actions will be introduced soon – so hold on to your good ideas. Whether evaluating the proposals or developing your own it is important to keep in mind the prompt on our wargames page given to our participants and conditions for the action.

CIMSEC content is and always will be free; consider a voluntary monthly donation to offset our operational costs. As always, it is your support and patronage that have allowed us to build this community – and we are incredibly grateful.

Base Nation

base nation book

Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. David Vine. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2015. 406pp. $35.

Review by Vic Allen

The concept of a distributed network of forward bases as the centerpiece of a strategy is not new — with the advent of steam-powered ships, the United States worked to rapidly expand their network of coaling stations, enabling forward presence both on the base and in the surrounding areas.

Indeed, such a concept is being revisited through the recent “pivot to the Pacific,”concepts like Air-Sea Battle/JAM-GC, and in the new idea of Distributed Lethality.

Inspired by his work researching the history of the indigenous peoples of Diego Garcia, as outlined in his first book Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia, David Vine looks at the network of far-flung U.S. military bases throughout the world with an eye toward illustrating their scope and cost. Vine seeks to examine both tangible costs such as treasure and materiel, and also the impact that such bases have on the surrounding population along with the men and women who operate from the bases.

The book is part of a larger collection known as The American Empire Project,” and as such inherits a great deal of its culture.

Started in 2004 by historians Tom Engelhardt and Steven Fraser, the project aims to examine recent trends that point to increasing imperial and exceptionalist tendencies in conduct and constitution of United States foreign policy. Accordingly, Vine’s tone throughout the book is one of skepticism — skepticism of the fiscal numbers that the Department of Defense sends him, of the good stewardship of the money that is spent on bases by DOD, and is most strongly skeptical of the benefits of a policy that has resulted in the establishment of over 680 bases worldwide, at an annual cost of at least $70 billion — not counting bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Opening with an overview of the historical background of global basing, Vine methodically lays out an exhaustively researched case that the current base network is wasteful at best, and at worst makes the United States less secure. Some of the most effective passages detail the deleterious effects of bases on local populations is they examine sex workers in Korea, displaced groups in Diego Garcia and Japan, and the embrace of dictators in Central and South America.

The Pentagon position that rebalancing towards Asia will not result in new U.S. bases is anticipated and refuted by Vine’s exploration of the Joint Task Force Bravo’s base of operations in Soto Cano, Honduras. Similar arrangements are detailed throughout the book, as are the consistent efforts to classify them as anything but a United States base.  The book makes a strong argument that, regardless of their size, scope, and location, “little Americas” located entirely within other countries reduces U.S. prestige and soft power. In light of China’s increasing use of soft power to increase its sphere of influence, any degradation of U.S. soft power is cause for concern.

The mushy language in Vine’s assessment of the number of bases and their operating costs is found throughout the book, echoed in sections where he reaches to make associations. One section, titled “Militarized Masculinity,” could just as well be found in a book about life in the United States or its military as a whole, as could “In Bed With The Mob” or “We’re Profiteers.” While these sections aren’t without merit, their lack of distinct applicability as problems raised by basing strategies distracts the reader from the otherwise strong case made in other sections.

Throughout Base Nation, Vine seeks to move past the bureaucratic accounting of numbers surrounding the United States’ bases, instead using plain-language definitions and consistent methods to provide a striking picture of the money and manpower expended to maintain forward presence. In developing and using unique metrics, the arguments are occasionally misguided, yet the overall effect of the book is strong, presenting a rhetorical framework for reducing the U.S. footprint around the world.

LT Vic Allen is a helicopter pilot, Action Officer at Naval History and Heritage Command, and Treasurer of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). He is a graduate of Norwich University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Southern California’s Center for Public Diplomacy.

CIMSEC content is and always will be free; consider a voluntary monthly donation to offset our operational costs. As always, it is your support and patronage that have allowed us to build this community – and we are incredibly grateful.

Where is the U.S. Navy Going To Put Them All? (Part Two)

Where is the U.S. Navy Going To Put Them All?

Part 2: UUVs, Fire Scouts and buoys and why the Navy needs lot’s of them.

AORH class jpeg

Sketch by Jan Musil. Hand drawn on quarter-inch graph paper. Each square equals twenty by twenty feet.

This article, the second of the series, lays out a suggested doctrine for the use of a UUV or dipping sonar installed on a ten foot square buoy deployed and maneuvered by Fire Scout helicopters. It is an incremental strategy, primarily using what the Navy already has in hand, but adding the use of a new buoy design, in quantity, combined with appropriate doctrinal changes and vigorously applying the result to the ASW mission. Read Part One here

In getting this program underway the U.S. Navy can utilize existing sensors, primarily for prosecuting ASW, but also for mapping the bottom, underwater reconnaissance or other yet-to-be-envisioned missions. In practice, generating useful results is far easier to accomplish if the UUV or dipping sonar is routinely, though not exclusively, used with a tether so the data generated can easily be transmitted back to its mothership for analysis and use.

Ten-Foot Square Buoy (TFS Buoy)

At this point a brief description of the buoy noted above, to be deployed in scores at any given time, is in order. A set of eight hollow, segmented and honey-combed for strength where necessary tubes, say one foot in diameter, made of a 21st century version of fiberglass can be configured in a square. Stacking the ends of the tubes on each other log cabin style, but deliberately leaving the space between each pair of tubes empty creates as much buoyancy as possible, but very deliberately reduces freeboard. Whether the resulting buoy is equipped with a dipping sonar or UUV, both the sensors and the equipment needed to operate the tether, reel for the line and so forth are going to get soaked anyway. Simultaneously, we want a minimum of tossing about in various sea states as the sonar or UUV does its job or as a helicopter drops down to utilize a hook to grab the buoy and gently lift it clear of the water. Therefore, if the waves are moving between the pairs of tubes, this will substantially reduce the buoys unavoidable movement in the water, vastly easing the helicopters task in relifting it for redeployment.

A pyramid shaped area should be installed above the tubes to provide a double sealed compartment for the motor driving the reel and its power source. Another much smaller, triple sealed compartment for the necessary electronics, radar lure and antenna is needed just above it. At this point all that is needed is to add an appropriately sized steel ring at the top for the helicopter to snag each time it moves the buoy and we have an extremely practical piece of equipment to deploy, in large numbers and at a rather low price, across the fleet.

In the years to come, the Navy can incrementally add the ability to transmit and receive on different frequencies to measure the difference in time back to the emitting sensors thereby creating additional ways to monitor the underwater environment, detect targets and potentially be less intrusive when operating amongst our cetacean neighbors. By doing so we can build a much more sophisticated picture of surrounding water conditions such as local currents, variations in thermocline depth, salinity, water temperature at varying depths and so forth as well. A good computerized analysis of these data points and a doctrine of best practices to utilize this knowledge of water conditions will leave the mission commander in a position to make much better informed decisions on where to deploy his search assets next.

Utilizing tethered UUVs and dipping sonar with a suite of frequencies to listen and broadcast on opens up interesting opportunities for the ASW mission. By significantly expanding outward the range of ocean area being searched, the Navy can realistically anticipate creating the possibility of being able to establish a rough range estimate for a detected target. Spread the sonar emitters out far enough and the use of parallax kicks in. If there is just a little difference in vector to the target from two widely separated hunters they now have a working range number. This range estimate will almost certainly be nothing close to accurate enough to fire on, but it will certainly indicate a distinct patch of ocean to direct any orbiting P-8s or other fleet elements toward. Finding a needle in haystacks is a lot easier if you have a solid clue as to which haystack you should be searching. If Fire Scouts simultaneously drop dipping sonar equipped buoys around the area in conjunction with the UUV equipped buoys, then it will be even easier to find the metaphorical needle. For discussion purposes let’s say a Fire Scout starts its day by moving one UUV equipped and four dipping sonar equipped buoys, all transmitting locally to an ISR drone or ScanEagle just overhead, in relays, across the ocean. As the hours pass an enormous amount of ocean can be searched, further and further out from the task force, yet the buoys will be able to keep up with the task force as it travels, even in dash mode. With only one buoy being moved at a time, each one briefly out of the water as it is transported hundreds or a few thousands of yards, there will be a constant stream of much better data generated for the ASW team than the existing use of sonobuoys can provide. And the deployed equipment will be able to reliably function on station for many more hours than a manned helicopter team can provide.

Perhaps not at a 24/7 rate nor for days and days on end, but a task force with 15 Fire Scouts and 75 buoys deployed, potentially separated by many miles, has added multiple alternatives to the ASW teams.

It is suggested above that 15 Fire Scouts dynamically rotate 75 UUV or dipping sonar equipped buoys across the ocean. 15 and 75 are merely suggestions though. The real point is that to derive the greatest value from the newly developed UUVs and Fire Scouts the Navy needs to be thinking in terms of a dozen plus helicopters and scores of buoys at a time, regardless of the particular mix of equipment and sensors dangling beneath them. Again, think and operate in quantity.

Nevertheless there is always a problem or three lurking around that need to be dealt with. For now we have reached the point where we need to consider the question used as the title for the article – “Where is the Navy going to put them all?”

In the next article we will examine two new ship classes that can be used by the fleet to go to sea with the various types of drones, UUVs, Fire Scouts and buoys suggested, in quantity.

Jan Musil is a Vietnam era Navy veteran, disenchanted ex-corporate middle manager and long time entrepreneur currently working as an author of science fiction novels. He is also a long-standing student of navies in general, post-1930 ship construction thinking, design hopes versus actual results and fleet composition debates of the twentieth century.


China’s Yuan-class Submarine Visits Karachi: An Assessment

In May 2015, a Chinese Type 041 Yuan-class submarine (pennant number 335) entered the Indian Ocean and made a week-long port call at Karachi, Pakistan. This development caused alarm in India, at least in the media circles, particularly since it comes barely six months after the first-ever Indian Ocean deployment of China’s Song-class submarine between September and November 2014, and its docking in Sri Lanka’s Colombo port. Notably, following the Colombo docking, NMF view-point titled “PLA Navy’s Submarine Arm ‘Stretches its Sea Legs to the Indian Ocean” of 21 November 2014 had predicted future Chinese submarine dockings in Pakistan’s ports. These seminal developments call for an objective assessment in terms of China’s intent underlying its submarine deployments in the Indian Ocean and its implications for India.

Alike the port call in Sri Lanka, China is likely to justify the submarine visit to Pakistan as a replenishment halt enroute to PLA Navy’s ongoing counter-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. However, these deployments may be seen in context of the growing volatility of the security environment in the South China Sea, including the increasing brinkmanship between China and the United States. In case of a maritime conflict in the area, China’s energy shipments transiting the Indian Ocean are strategically vulnerable. Through its submarine deployments, China may be seeking to deter its potential adversaries against interdicting its Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) in the Indian Ocean.

Route of the Yuan class submarine.

By virtue of its opaque operating medium, a submarine has always been a potent platform of war. The technological advances in satellite and air surveillance have not been able to offset the submarine’s inherent advantage of stealth. On the other hand, the advances in underwater weaponry – particularly submarine-launched anti-ship and land-attack missiles – have further enhanced the submarine’s lethality. The only constraint of a conventional (diesel-driven) submarine – like the Song-class – is to re-charge its batteries, for which its need to come up to the sea surface (for access to atmospheric oxygen) every two or three days, depending upon the usage of the batteries. This limits the submarine’s operational role and makes it highly vulnerable. However, Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology – such as on the Yuan class – has eased this constraint substantially, since its stored liquid oxygen enables the submarine to operate underwater for an extended durations of as much as two to three weeks.

Among the aims specific to the Yuan 335 call at Karachi, the foremost may be to showcase the Yuan to the Pakistan Navy. Notably, news-reports indicate that Pakistan Navy (PN) is likely to acquire up to eight Chinese Type 41 Yuan-class submarines. The contract between Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works Limited (KSEW) and China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Co. Ltd. (CSOC) includes building some of these at KSEW. These submarines are equipped with Sterling AIP system, which the Chinese claim is more efficient than the AIP systems currently available in the world. The week-long docking of the Yuan at Karachi – too long merely for replenishment – may also have been utilised for training of the KSEW and PN personnel on the submarine, and its machinery and weapon systems, particularly the AIP system.

In broader terms, the two sets of Chinese submarine forays into the Indian Ocean (Colombo and Karachi) are likely to be ‘trial balloons’ for regular operational deployments of Chinese submarines in the region. The current deployments are also likely to be meant to familiarise the PLA Navy with the new operational environment in the Indian Ocean, train them for distant missions, collect intelligence, and collate hydrographic data specific to the Indian Ocean, which is essential for future submarine operations in the region. At present, the Chinese submarines need to replenish only fuel, food and fresh water. In the longer term, with the PN (and some other regional navies such as the Thai Navy) operating the same submarines, the PLA Navy is likely to benefit from a more comprehensive logistics support – technical services, machinery and equipment spare-parts and even ammunition. This will enable the Chinese submarines to remain deployed in the Indian Ocean for extended periods.

While China may continue to deploy its conventional submarines in the Indian Ocean, these are likely to be supplemented with the upgraded version of its new-generation Type 093 nuclear attack submarines (SSNs), whenever these are operationally deployable. These SSNs are likely to be armed with anti-ship and land-attack missiles, and capable of launching Special Operations Forces (SOF) via Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDV). Since SSNs do not need replenished, these submarines would not need to enter any regional port, unless China wants to demonstrate a deterrent posture.

China and India share a complex relationship, competitive, and even potentially adversarial. Hence, even if increasing Chinese submarine deployments in the Indian Ocean is not directly targeted at India, the development has severe national security implications for New Delhi. The response to increasing Chinese submarine forays in the Indian Ocean lies in developing affective air, ship and submarine based Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) capabilities, including sub-surface Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).

Captain Gurpreet S Khurana, PhD is the Executive Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Indian Navy, the NMF or the Government of India. He can be reached at

CIMSEC content is and always will be free; consider a voluntary monthly donation to offset our operational costs. As always, it is your support and patronage that have allowed us to build this community – and we are incredibly grateful.

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