Countdown to Launch


In the wake of TLAM strikes against targets in the Middle East by US Navy warships, we are reposting this guest article by LT Monika Chess, USN, former navigator aboard USS Barry (DDG-52) on the run-ups to a cruise-missile strike to provide a shipboard perspective of their planning and execution.

On March 19, 2011, USS Barry (DDG-52) was one of the first warships to launch Tomahawk Land-Attack Missiles (TLAMs) against targets in Libya in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn. Barry began 2011 by deploying in January with the Enterprise Strike Group in the Gulf of Aden and conducting counter-piracy operations. However, her mission unexpectedly shifted in March as she received tasking to steam independently to the Mediterranean Sea and join the international coalition of warships operating off the coast of Libya. Odyssey Dawn aimed to enforce the United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya and stop Libyan leader Colonel Moammar Gadhafi’s forces from attacking civilians.

After arriving in the U.S. 6th Fleet Joint Operating Area, Barry’s strike team conducted numerous training scenarios that built on the skills developed during the training cycle and ensured the ship maintained the knowledge and proficiency to monitor the surface picture, make proper reports, and successfully execute any mission. As the state of affairs between the Gadhafi regime and civilian forces worsened in Libya, the training scenarios became daily.

On March 18, Barry was ordered to head to a preplanned launch position and stand by for tasking. The strike team was prepared and ready to execute a strike mission at a moment’s notice. On March 19, Barry received orders to conduct TLAM strike missions against strategic targets in Gadhafi-controlled regions in Libya. This was the first time Barry launched Tomahawk missiles for a real-world mission.

“Most strike teams never launch in their careers, but Barry was given that opportunity,” said Barry’s strike officer LTJG Jason Haney. Barry launched more than 30 Tomahawks from her forward and aft Mk 41 Vertical Launch System cells during her first of four strike taskings. With each launch, there was a deafening roar and blinding light as the missile streaked upward. Sailors watched in awe as the cells emptied one after another and the missiles flew toward Libya.

“The strike team was extremely focused. There was a sense of confidence as we accomplished our mission. I am extremely proud of my team,” said Chief Fire Controlman (FC) (SW) Ken Lilley, strike division leading chief petty officer.

“We were confident in the accuracy of our missiles and that minimal collateral damage was caused by the strikes. It helps to ease our minds to know that we conducted these missions effectively and minimized the impact on innocent people,” said Barry’s combat systems officer LT Todd Grahek, one of the tactical action officers during the strike missions.

“It required a ship-wide effort to conduct a Tomahawk strike of this magnitude,” continued LT Grahek. “Our engineers kept steady electricity and ensured that we were able to position ourselves appropriately. Our supply department ensured we had the parts we needed in a timely manner to keep the weapons systems fully functional. Combat systems, weapons, and operations departments operated as a single team focused on mission success, and every person who was a part of the mission was truly a trained professional.” FC2(SW) Royce Orr, one of the engagement planners during Barry’s strike missions, said, “I’m honored to participate in an event that will go down in U.S. history. It was a great feeling to be able to serve my country and assist the civilians in Libya.”

This article appeared in its original form in the Summer 2011 issue of Surface Warfare magazine available here. LT Monika Chess served as the navigator aboard Barry during Odyssey Dawn and works in the admissions office of the U.S. Naval Academy.


How To Make The ‘Ebola Bomb': Why You Should Stop Worrying About Bioterrorism

By Sandra Ivanov

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the deadliest epidemic since the virus was discovered in 1976, crossing international borders, it has claimed over 2’600 lives (as of September 18, 2014). There is no vaccine and there is no cure. Aid and medical personnel are sought from all over the world, borders have been contained, and risks of rising violent conflict continue to develop out of the Ebola eruption. However, there have been other interesting analyses of this issue on the side – media and opinion pieces are claiming that terrorist groups could get a hold of the virus and spread it around their regions, and the world (see for example Rick Noack, “Why Ebola worries the Defense Department“, The Washington Post, 05.08.2014). Well, I wanted to test this claim for myself, so with a bit of research and optimism, I’ve created a recipe to examine what a potential terrorist group would need to do to make this so-called “Ebola Bomb” – how hard could it really be?


Many studies from a health, as well as a humanities perspective, assume that terrorists could successfully generate biological or chemical agents and weaponise them. Taking this initial premise, a lot of literature has been based around this looming threat, subsequently offering policy advice, public health recommendations, and technological investment to avoid such catastrophes. However it would be useful to deconstruct this claim entirely. So I’ll begin by offering a baking recipe, to explore at the very core, what a group would need to do to successfully create a biological weapon, in this case, utilising the Ebola virus.

Firstly, any terrorist group wanting to create and weaponise a biological or chemical agent will need to have an appropriate kitchen. In the case of the Ebola virus, a standard biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) scene will be required (Adeline M. Nyamathi et al., “Ebola Virus: Immune Mechanisms of Protection and Vaccine Development“, Biological Research For Nursing 4, No. 4, April 2003: 276-281). Some features of these laboratories include decontamination mechanisms, pest management systems, air filters, and special suits. Sometimes the kitchen will have to be in a separate building, or in an isolated area within a building to meet the safety requirements. Not only will the kitchen be under strict conditions, the baking process will need to be kept in total secrecy. The constant threat of law enforcements raiding facilities, and intelligence and secret services detecting activities will have to be avoided. Also, there are only some fifty of these laboratories successfully maintained worldwide.

Before starting, make sure there is a baking dish of ‘uncertainty’ readily available to just throw all of the following ingredients into:

  • 1 Tablespoon of Proper Agent

Initially, a terrorist group must decide what kind of agent they would like to use in a bioterror attack. This is one part of the recipe which can be modified, but the other ingredients will be standard for all types of attacks. The recent spread of the deadly Ebola virus will be the agent of choice for this bomb. Ebola is a virus which is passed to humans through contact with infected animals. The spread of the virus from person-to-person is brought about through blood and bodily fluids, as well as exposure to a contaminated environment. An infected live host with Ebola would need to be maintained in a human or animal – only a few animals are able to be used as hosts, such as primates, bats, and forest antelope. Although Ebola infection of animals through aerosol particles can be effective, it has not successfully been transferred with this method to humans (Manoj Karwa, Brian Currie and Vladimir Kvetan, “Bioterrorism: Preparing for the impossible or the improbable“, Critical Care Medicine 33, No. 1, January 2005: 75-95).

  • 1 Bucket of Resources and Money

In order to develop a biological weapon, a substantial amount of material and money is required. Investment is needed from the very outset – taking into account membership size and capabilities of a terrorist group, financial assets of a group, and making sure territory and proper infrastructure is available for the biological agent. For a successful bomb to be created, a group must think about the resources they will need for each stage of the baking process, such as weapons production, potential testing phases, and logistics, such as transportation and communications technologies (Victor H. Asal, Gary A. Ackerman and R. Karl Rethemeyer, “Connections Can Be Toxic: Terrorist Organizational Factors and the Pursuit of CBRN Terrorism“, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, 2006). Resources needed for an “Ebola Bomb” will most likely need to be imported from the outside, and a group must determine the feasibility of acquiring the materials and technologies needed for the bomb (Jean Pascal Zanders, “Assessing the risk of chemical and biological weapons proliferation to terrorists“, The Nonproliferation Review, Fall 1999: 17-34). A surplus of money would also be a smart idea in case technical difficulties arise.

  • 5 Cups of Expertise

With all the correct resources and necessary amount of monetary support, the recipe will require the right kind of know-how. For an operation like this, a terrorist group should have members with high levels of education and training in science, engineering, and technological development, to deal with highly virulent agents, and for successful weaponisation (Zanders). A group may need to be integrated into knowledge flows and institutions, or be able to recruit members to their cause with this specific expertise (Asal, Ackerman and Rethemeyer). Knowledge and expertise is required to create the correct strain, handling the agent, growing the agent with the desired characteristics, and maintaining the agent. Taking Ebola specifically requires synthesising proteins which make it infectious, and becomes a task that is difficult and unlikely to succeed (Amanda M. Teckma, “The Bioterrorist Threat of Ebola in East Africa and Implications for Global
Health and Security
“, Global Policy Essay, May 2013). If Ebola is successfully created in the kitchen, it is not itself a biological weapon – an expert will be required to transform the virus into a workable mechanism for dissemination.

  • A Teaspoon of Risk

The decision to use biological weapons for an attack is in itself extremely risky. There is a risk that bioterrorism could cause dissenting views among followers, and that public approval and opinion may channel the way a group operates. After all, terrorists are political communicators, wanting to bring attention to their grievances. If a group becomes polarised or resented by their actions, they will not see the benefits of pursuing certain methods. Terrorists want to send powerful messages, gain more members, in which these members assist to bring about certain plans and demands. Therefore, public opinion and political opportunism will be risked in a quest to create a bioweapon such as an “Ebola Bomb” (Zanders). Secondly, a terrorist group may be subject to more scrutiny or attention. This is why keeping activities covert will be a key to success. States will be more vigilant towards groups that are known to be seeking and acquiring biological and chemical capabilities (Asal, Ackerman and Rethemeyer). And finally, risk will always cling on to funding requirements, and potential technical difficulties in all stages of the bioweapon making process.

  • A Fist of Time

Now this recipe is going to take a while to prepare and bake in the oven, and there is no particular moment to determine when it should be removed from the baking dish. So, whatever group wants to make this bomb, will need to realise this is a long-term and complex effort. It will not work like most conventional weapons, which produce a high number of casualties with a single explosion, and that could be a reason why bioterrorism is not the most popular means for a violent attack – demanding time, effort, and resources without guarantees of a concrete result. A fist full of time may be needed so that knowledge, both tacit and explicit, can be acquired, as well as accounting for the various mistakes and learning curves to overcome (Asal, Ackerman and Rethemeyer). It can also refer to how long it will take to cook up, maintain and prepare a virus for an attack. It will take time to create a successful weapon with prior testing, and wait for the correct environmental conditions when it comes to dissemination. Time will have to be a group investment – it is not the kind of bomb that will detonate immediately.

  • A Pinch of Curiosity of the Unknown

The teaspoon of risk coincides with uncertainty, and there will need to be a commitment to potential unknown factors. It is unknown what will happen once a virus is disseminated. Will the weapon even work in the first place? Weather conditions are unpredictable and Ebola will not have a prominent effect in certain environments. What happens to the terrorist group if the attack fails? What happens to the reputation of the group and its membership, or will the group cease to exist? If the recipe is a success, it is impossible to control the biological agent which is released – not only can it affect the targeted population, but it may annihilate the terrorist group itself. There will be an unknown into potentially losing local and international support, and donors if this causes widespread catastrophe.

Scientists from the Southern African Development Community region, including a sponsored postdoctoral research fellow by the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance, working in the only biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory in Africa, which is located at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Scientists from the Southern African Development Community region, including a sponsored postdoctoral research fellow by the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance, working in the only biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory in Africa, which is located at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Method: Weaponisation and Dissemination
Mix that up good in your baking dish of what is now “deep uncertainty” and pop it in the oven to bake. But as time passes, it seems as though the ingredients are not rising. The process of turning a biological agent into a weapon for attack is the phase with the most hurdles for terrorist groups. In order for a virus to inflict a lot of harm, it has to be disseminated through an effective delivery mechanism. As mentioned previously, the Ebola virus needs a live host. Weaponising a live host is more difficult than other agents which can be cultured on dishes of nutrients. The process has many stages which involve testing, refining, upgrading, and toughening. The methods to disseminate an agent are only known to few people, and rarely published – it is not a basement project (Teckman).

Let’s take Aum Shinrikyo as an example of conducting a bioterrorist attack (even it was “only” a chemical attack). This apocalyptic religious organisation in Japan managed to release sarin gas inside a Tokyo subway, killing a dozen people, and injuring 50. However, even with money and resources, they failed to effectively weaponise the chemical. Factors which led to their failure included internal secrecy and breakdown in communication; selecting members only solely dedicated to their cause to work on the weapons, ultimately employing unskilled people to operate and maintain the project, causing accidents and leaks (Zanders). Aum Shinrikyo’s attempt to disseminate botulinum toxin into Tokyo using a truck with a compressor and vents, did not work because they had not acquired an infectious strain (Sharon Begley, “Unmasking Bioterror“, Newsweek, 13.03.2010; “Chronology of Aum Shinrikyo’s CBW Activities“, Monterey Institute of International Studies, 2001). Finally, a major obstacle to successfully disseminating Ebola, is because this virus requires a specific environment in order to thrive. Weather conditions can be unpredictable, and Ebola particularly needs high temperatures and humidity to remain effective.

The emergency service tend to victims of the Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack on Tokyo's subway in 1995 (Photo: Rex Features).
The emergency service tend to victims of the Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway in 1995 (Photo: Rex Features).

Decoration: Results and Conclusions
Obviously, this “Ebola Bomb” has not come close to containing the right requirements needed to explode. Looking back historically, pathogens, and all kinds of toxins have been used as tools in sabotage and assassinations since the beginning of time. Now, it would be silly to say this recipe will never work – there will always be a possibility that Ebola or other viruses may be used as biological weapons in the future. However, the likelihood of its development and use by a terrorist group is quite improbable.

Mentioning Aum Shinrikyo again, they are an organisation which at the time, had a war chest of more than $300 million, with six laboratories and a handful of biologists, in the end having insurmountable difficulties with the weaponisation and dissemination processes, and killing a dozen people (Begley). There is a greater amount of knowledge and technology available in our day and age than in 1995 with the Aum Shinrikyo attacks, but it is still unlikely that this will be the weapon of choice. Examining state biological weapons programmes, Soviet Russia had almost 60,000 personnel employed in their weapons development, with only about 100 people that actually knew how to take an agent through the full production process. In the United States, at Fort Detrick, there were 250 buildings with 3,000 personnel, and it took them a while to weaponise a single agent, such as botulinum (Manoj Karwa, Brian Currie and Vladimir Kvetan).

Nowadays, the narrative has assumed a worst case scenario analysis, and subsequently narrowed down bioterrorism to a single threat prognosis. There is little distinction made between what is conceivable and possible, and what is likely in terms of bioterrorism. Anything can be conceived as a terrorist threat, but what is the reality? The “Ebola Bomb” is not a danger. The likelihood of a bioterrorist attack remains highly unlikely (Teckman). The focus should be on preventing natural pandemics of human disease, such as tuberculosis, SARS, AIDS and influenza – emphasis placed on how we can cure diseases, and how medical training could be improved to contain, and avoid viruses such as Ebola altogether. Resources are being pumped into biodefence in the security as well as the medical sector, but preparedness and investment in bioterrorism needs to be in proportion to actual threats, otherwise, funds are diverted away from much needed public health programmes:

Diversion of resources from public health in the United States include diversion of funds needed for protection against other chemical risks – spills, leaks and explosives – and infectious diseases. Each year in the United States there are 60,000 chemical spills, leaks and explosions, of which 8,000 are classified as ‘serious’, with over 300 deaths. There are 76 million episodes of food-borne illness, leading to 325,000 hospitalisations and 5,000 deaths, most of which could be prevented. There are 110,000 hospitalisations and 20,000 deaths from influenza, a largely preventable illness, and there are 40,000 new cases and 10,000 deaths from HIV/AIDS. Diversion of resources for public health outside the US reduce the resources that can help provide protection against diseases rooted in poverty, ignorance and absence of services. — Victor W Sidel, “Bioterrorism in the United States: A balanced assessment of risk and response“, Medicine, Conflict and Survival 19, No. 4, 2003: 318-325.

The effectiveness of biological weapons has never been clearly shown, the numbers of casualties have been small and it is likely that hoaxes and false alarms in the future will continue to outnumber real events and create disruptive hysteria (Manoj Karwa, Brian Currie and Vladimir Kvetan). Emphasis needs to be back on medical research, as well as social science investigations into the roots of why terrorist groups would even want to pursue biological weapons, and the lengths they would go to use them. Let this be an avenue for further pondering and exploring, the realities of bioterrorism.

Sandra Ivanov is from New Zealand with a postgraduate education in Peace and Conflict Studies. She is currently an editor of the blog “Conflict and Security“, and primarily works in the non-government sector. You can find her through Linkedin or follow her updates on Twitter.


Sea Control 53 – Indonesian Security Policy


Happy Birthday CIMSEC! In celebration of CIMSEC’s first birthday, Sea Control Asia Pacific is bringing you a special podcast with an all-star cast. On the sidelines of the Conference of Australian and Indonesian Youth, Natalie Sambhi, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, hosts an in-depth discussion with Lieutenant General (rtd) Agus Widjojo (Indonesian Army), Brigadier General (rtd) Gary Hogan (Australian Army) and Jim Della-Giacoma (former head of International Crisis Group operations in Southeast Asia) on Indonesia’s defence and security, and maritime security in the region.

DOWNLOAD: Indonesian Security Policy

The podcast covers Indonesia’s security priorities, strategic communications and defence diplomacy, Asia Pacific cooperation on the South China Sea, naval modernisation, and US–Indonesia relations.

For some background of the events of 1965 mentioned by the guests, see here.



Blue Economy: An Agenda for the Indian Government

Prime Ministers Narendra Modi of India and Navinchandra Ramgoolam of Mauritius, during their meeting on the sidelines of the swearing-in ceremony of the former in May 2014 in New Delhi, agreed to increase cooperation in ‘maritime security, renewable energy, and the blue-economy, including development of related infrastructure’. Earlier, Seychelles Vice President Danny Faure had stated that his country was ‘working closely with India on developing the Blue Economy concept’ and that both countries had accorded high priority to issues like ‘maritime pollution and overfishing that impact the Indian Ocean’.

Before going any further, it is important to understand ‘blue economy’. The idea of blue economy was argued during the Rio+20 preparatory meetings, where several Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) observed that ‘Green Economy’ had limited relevance for them; instead, ‘Green Economy in a Blue World’ was a good concept and most suitable for the sustainable development and management of ocean resources.

A number of countries have included blue economy in their national strategy and have published white papers and official documents. For instance, China has long followed this idea and has instituted Five-Year Development Plan for National Marine Economy which monitors progress of various marine sectors. China’s State Council has published a White Paper on the subject which notes that the Chinese maritime economy grew at 17 per cent annually in the 1980s, and 20 per cent in the 1990s. In January 2013, China released the 12th Five-Year Development Plan for National Marine Economy which notes that the marine economy is expected to grow at 8 per cent annually up to 2015, generate 2.6 million new jobs, and could be about 10 per cent of the national GDP.

Likewise, the European Union has announced its ‘Blue Growth’ strategy for sustainable development of marine and maritime sectors to contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It is estimated that it would result in nearly 5.4 million jobs and a gross added value of about €500 billion annually and generate sustainable jobs and growth. In the Indian context, the idea of blue economy is yet to develop. There are as many as 17 different agencies whose mandate includes matters maritime/marine; ironically, there is no synergy among them partly due to the absence of an overarching agency to facilitate dialogue among these agencies.

SeychellesDuring his first address to the newly constituted 16th Lok Sabha, President Pranab Mukherjee outlined major policy priorities of the new government over the next five years which included setting up of the National Maritime Authority (NMA), an apex body, to address coastal security concerns. This is a significant initiative and addresses gaps in coastal security and would help prevent terrorist attacks from the sea similar to the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in 2008. It is equally important to harness the seas to enhance the maritime power potential of the country. A multi-disciplinary maritime advisory body can help bring together a number of national / state bodies and can help formulate a maritime vision, draw up plans and coordinate economic, environmental and security activities in the maritime domain which can then work to ‘craft a National Maritime Security Policy’. This could then be integrated with the maritime strategy which would automatically ‘reinforce maritime security’.

Taking this argument further, Prime Minister Modi’s announcement to do away with the eight-member Planning Commission and set up a larger think tank that accommodates the states to do the ‘big thinking and thinking for the future’ could explore the possibility of constituting a group of specialists under a maritime think tank to develop a blueprint for growth of blue economy.

Mauritius and Seychelles are important island nations in the Indian Ocean and have made a strong case for blue economy as an important pillar of their national development strategy. As noted earlier, their leaders have passionately argued about their commitment to sustainable exploitation of living and non-living marine resources and deep seabed minerals to enhance food and energy security. However, these countries are constrained by a number of technological and investment limitations for the development of the maritime sector which is critical for their economic growth and look towards India or even China for support.

At another level, the high decibel security discourse in the Indian Ocean centered on asymmetric threats and challenges appears to have swamped the idea of blue economy and pushed it to the back burner. There is no doubt that security is critical for sustainable development of sea based resources, it will be useful for India, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka to jointly promote the idea of blue economy in the Indian Ocean and keep environment and ecology high on the agenda.

Dr Vijay Sakhuja is the Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Indian Navy or National Maritime Foundation. He can be reached at This article was cross-posted by permission and appeared in its original form at India’s National Maritime Foundation

Sorry, our training only covers military assaults, not sexual ones.

American Strategy in the 21st Century: Maritime Power and China – Part I

American strategic thought should center on war with China, a near-peer competitor who aims to expel U.S. military power from the Western Pacific in order to achieve regional hegemony.[1] U.S. leaders need strategic options on how best to engage, deter and ultimately defeat China. The geography of the region demands a maritime focus, and as policy makers have decided to “pivot” to Asia, it is incumbent on them to decide how best to posture American power. Maritime power will be the deciding factor in this conflict.
This is not to say that a conflict with China is inevitable or desired. Yet the responsibility of policy makers, military planners and national security experts is to consider and plan accordingly for conflict. Not assuming that war will come will mean the fight will be longer, harder and more costly – and more in doubt.

In the last half of the 20th Century, American maritime power was the centerpiece in a policy of containment against Communism. The collapse of the Soviet Union left the U.S. Navy as the uncontested power on the world’s oceans. [2] Power projection and unrestricted use of the sea lanes enabled the U.S. to fight two sustained land wars for more than ten years. Our pivot toward Asia, demands we build our future maritime power capabilities and platforms around our strategy.

War with China must be an immediate concern. The stage is already set for America to be drawn into conflict now, while she is underprepared. Consider the following scenario:

Late 2014
The conclusion of the 18th Chinese Party Congress in November 2012 did not soothe growing ethnic and economic tensions in China.[3] A stalled world economic recovery reduced demand for Chinese-made goods, creating an unemployment crisis in a country where employment is “guaranteed.” Ethnic tensions spilled over in many western and rural provinces and the state security and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) wavered between accommodating and cracking down. Sensing the Communist Party was losing its “Mandate from Heaven”,[4] it initiated a series of territorial disputes with Asian neighbors in the hopes of spurring nationalism. In late 2014, PRC law enforcement vessels of the China Marine Surveillance (CMS) agency placed water barriers around Scarborough Reef, a disputed shoal claimed by the Philippines and the PRC. An amphibious craft over the horizon with prefabricated construction materials set up a small “Maritime Surveillance Outpost” on pylons manned by marines and “fishery law enforcement” officers. Lacking a meaningful navy, and the stomach to fight, the Philippine government filed protests at the United Nations (UN) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The U.S. ignored quiet feelers put out by the Philippine government about military support for a response, and the PRC noted the lack of a forceful U.S. reaction to the aid their treaty ally.
After a brief “high” from their triumph, the economic situation continued to worsen through 2015. The Communist leadership looked closer to home for another diversion. In the East China Sea, just north of Taiwan, the PRC and Japan were locked in a territorial dispute over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands. Noting the lack of support Washington gave the Philippines, China waited until the carrier USS George Washington was back in its home port of Yokosuka, Japan undergoing regular maintenance. With the absence of a transiting carrier strike group, hundreds of fishing boats loaded with PLA Navy [PLA(N)] marines come ashore and hastily build a “Maritime Surveillance Outpost” on two of the larger islands. The few Japanese Coast Guard ships could not prevent the landing and soon the islands were occupied with marines and light artillery. Tokyo showed more resolve, and vowed to retake the “home territory.” To the surprise of the American leadership, Japan invoked the mutual defense treaty with the United States, and America’s political leadership faced its worst nightmare: a conflict with China.[5]

Chinese marine forces practice a beach assault during the Mission Action 2013 exercise.
Chinese marine forces practice a beach assault during the Mission Action 2013 exercise.


Strategy and Maritime Power
We begin by making a series of assumptions. First, the policy of the United States is to remain the preeminent world power. Relative decline need not be indicative of retreat from global leadership; America will continue to oppose usurpation by one or more powers whose interests do not largely coincide with our own. A multi-polar world is more dangerous, not less.

Second, America will seek to maintain a qualitative military edge over peer competitors, enabling it to be capable of protecting national security interests worldwide. Finally, American policy will seek to ensure continued global economic integration and will fund a military large and capable enough to secure the global commons.
In order to meet these assumptions, U.S. strategy must navigate a series of challenges in North Africa, the Middle East and Iran, North Korea, Russia and China. All of these are potential flashpoints of military conflict that could escalate, but only one – China – has the ability to fundamentally alter America’s position in the world and take her place as the preeminent power. The ability of America to respond hinges on maritime power.

The nature of American maritime power has evolved over time, as outlined in 1954 by Samuel Huntington. During the Continental Phase, from the founding to 1890, the Navy played a subordinate role, primarily responsible for coastal defense, protecting American commerce and during the Mexican-American and Civil Wars, performing blockading functions and amphibious operations. Beginning in 1890 through the end of World War II, the Oceanic Phase, the United States began to project its power and interests overseas. Maritime policy and thinking was largely influenced by Alfred Thayer Mahan. He argued that the “true mission of the navy was acquiring command of the sea through the destruction of the enemy fleet.” To secure command of the sea, the nation required a stronger battle fleet. This doctrine was largely accepted by the Great Powers, including Japan.[6]

The third phase, the Transoceanic Phase, has seen maritime power orient away from the open ocean and toward the littorals. Even Admiral Nimitz would note that the reduction of enemy targets on land “is the basic objective of warfare,” not the destruction of the enemy fleet. The purpose of maritime power since the end of World War II is to “utilize command of the sea to achieve supremacy on the land.” In a sense, Mahan has been replaced by Sir Julian Corbett.[7]

Maritime power has distinct advantages for policy makers. It is the most politically viable option to posture military forces and respond to challenges without the need for a large land presence. Foreign powers, coalition partners and allies(and the local populations) prefer regular port visits, exercises and training engagements than the permanent stationing of troops. The American public has also cooled to the idea of large battalions stationed overseas. As the public has also grown more casualty-averse, policy makers need more time to prepare the public for the eventual introduction of land forces and the potentially large number of casualties. The nature of a maritime conflict – slow to escalate – provides the political leadership the most critical of elements in any conflict: time.
Maritime power should not be confused as “Navy-only,” or even “Navy-Air Force-only.” Land forces play a critical role. As Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie[8] noted, “The ultimate determinant in war is the man on the scene with the gun…This is the soldier.” Land operations are critical in a conflict where the littorals play a central role. The hypothetical scenario above is an example.

Space and cyberspace are newer elements of maritime power. Modern navigation, intelligence gathering and communication, including the Internet, rely on satellite technology and architecture. In the mid to late 1990s, the U.S. military began reconfiguring itself for network-centric operations, linking combat platforms and intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) assets. At sea, this is critical to Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). The backbone of a networked military is the satellite and cyberspace architecture and is vital to joint operations.

The Dual Nature of War
Before considering conflict with China, we have to consider the nature of war itself. War is dichotomous, being fought principally on land, or with both land and maritime elements.[9] John Arquilla[10] identified that in land wars, skill was the primary factor which determined victory or defeat, while in wars involving land-sea powers, maritime power was the determining factor.

Land powers which initiate wars with land-sea powers tend to lose, often because they inflate their own naval capabilities and lack the requisite experience in naval operations. 16th Century France and 19th-20th Century Germany are two examples. Both were continental powers that began a program of naval expansion with the intent to challenge the British at sea and reach a position of dominance. Both entered conflicts with Britain, only to find that their newly expanded navies did not perform as expected. Their naval bureaucracies retreated from the offensive doctrines in order to protect their new – and very expensive – fleets. Once hostilities commenced, they turned from offensive operations to a guerre de course (commerce raiding), a defensive naval strategy. However, their peacetime advocacy of an offensive naval doctrine made conflict more likely, not less.[11]

About the Author
LT Robert “Jake” Bebber USN is an information warfare officer assigned to the staff of the United States Cyber Command. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Central Florida. The views expressed here do not represent those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy or the U.S. Cyber Command. He welcomes your comments at


[1] For a more thorough view, see John J. Mearsheimer’s article “Can China Rise Peacefully?” at The National Interest, April 8, 2014, available at:

[2] Peter M. Swartz, Center for Naval Analysis, personal communication, November 8, 2012.

[3] For example, see “China’s Achilles Heel” in The Economist, April 21, 2012: ; “Unrest in China – A dangerous year” also in The Economist, January 28, 2012: Also, see “Uighurs and China’s Xinjiang Region” in Council on Foreign Relations, May 29, 2012:

[4] For more on the concept of the “mandate of heaven,” see Perry, E. J. “Challenging the mandate of heaven: popular protests in modern China.” Critical Asian Studies 33, no. 2 (2001): 163-180.

[5] See “Treaty with Japan covers islets in China spat: U.S. official” (Reuters) September 20, 2012, available at

[6] Huntington, Samuel P. “National Policy and the Transoceanic Navy. Proceedings 80 no. 5 (1954).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Wylie, J.C. Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1967. Pg. 72.

[9] Air power is a major component of both land and land-sea war and hence, is not treated separately.

[10] Arquilla, John. Dubious Battles: Agression, Defeat and the International System. Washington, DC: Crane Russak, 1992. Pg. 131.

[11] Ibid. pp. 99-129


Base for The P-8? The View from Malaysia

There’s been a fair bit of reporting regarding U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Greenert’s supposed remarks that Malaysia was offering a base in East Malaysia for deploying US Navy P-8s. Despite the U.S. Navy clarifying his remarks and saying they’ve been taken out of a context, the “base offer” seems too good a story for the U.S. media to pass on. Unfortunately many of the reports miss the dynamics of how U.S.-Malaysia military cooperation actually works, as to anyone familiar with such the notion of Malaysia allowing the United States to regularly stage surveillance missions out of its airbases is fairly laughable.

The fact is, except under the ambit of the Five Power Defence Arrangement, every military cooperation activity by Malaysia with a foreign country is agreed to on a case-by-case basis. So the United States would have to ask for approval for, at a minimum, every deployment with no guarantee that Malaysia will approve. It might be hard for those outside the military-defence circle here to accept but military cooperation activities between Malaysia and other countries can often ad-hoc based on opportunities provided by a deployment that takes place close to or in the vicinity of Malaysia. For instance, last year when the U.S.S. Boxer was transiting through the Malacca Straits with no engagement activity or exercises with Malaysia planned, the United States then decided to offer to fly Malaysian military and defence officials via V-22 Ospreys to the ship to see U.S. Marines capabilities onboard and engage in briefings and discussions, an offer which was then accepted. Similarly in June last year, when the French LPD F.N.S. Tonnerre was on a deployment tour in the region, France put in a request to Malaysia’s Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ) for an amphibious landing exercise but JFHQ declined, saying it was tied up with the ongoing CARAT 2013 exercise with the United States but referred the French to the Malaysian Army Headquarters who could accommodate the request.

800px-P_8A_touches_down_at_Pax_RiverThese two examples illustrate that Malaysia’s military cooperation activities with other countries are often on an as-and-when basis, rather than occurring as part of a highly formalized arrangement. As Malaysia wishes to preserve its ambit of neutrality, any activity has to be offered in such a manner so that Malaysia can decide whether to allow it based on such criteria and whether the timing is suitable – requests to do something during the fasting month of Ramadan or the Eid Fitri celebration period for instance are typically going to be denied.

Indeed at the Asian Naval Warfare Conference in Kuala Lumpur on September 10, which was open to the media although very little media showed up, Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, Commander U.S. 7th Fleet, directly addressed the matter:

“There’s no formal treaty with respect to Malaysia as far as military operations. In fact, we conduct operations with the Malaysian military on a case-by-case basis, when permission is granted. We have a lot of subject matter exchanges including in the maritime patrol reconnaissance aircraft area so we’re doing more and more work in that regard, but that is not a formal policy document that says ‘hey, this is what we’re going to do and this is when we’re going to do it,’ this is really Admiral Kamarul [Vice Admiral Kamarulzaman, Deputy Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) Chief who was the senior RMN officer at the conference] and Robert Thomas saying, ‘hey what about this,’ and ‘can we get diplomatic clearance and permission to go work these exercises and this training.’”

And it’s not as if P-8s, or for that matter P-3 Orions, have not flown in and out of RMAF bases in the past in East Malaysia. Check out any Malaysian planespotting forum and you’ll see plenty of evidence, all related to cooperation activity and exercises between Malaysia and the United States. Part of the reason the United States is keen to have the P-8 Poseidon go to Malaysia is to highlight its capabilities to the Malaysian military given that Malaysia has long had an outstanding requirement for a long-range maritime patrol aircraft, and the P-8 could fill it.

Which raises another point, the ready assumption that anything to do with U.S. surveillance aircraft in East Malaysia has to be in regard to China. The fact is that Malaysia also has concerns on the state of security on the east coast of the state of Sabah in East Malaysia, which since last year’s incursion by Sulu separatists has also been plagued by cross-border kidnappings by various groups from the Philippines so a P-8 or P-3 going to East Malaysia may not necessarily be doing surveillance in an area where China operates. It’s not surprising that when the United States offers a chance for Malaysian personnel to fly aboard and see the P-8’s capabilities, Malaysia would opt to use the familiarization flight to gauge how it performs in an area where the country expects to do the bulk of its maritime surveillance mission.

p-8-weapons-bayStill, for some in the media it makes a nice story to say that Malaysia is offering the United States a base to stage P-8 flights as an attempt to counterbalance China and in response to Chinese maneuvers near East Malaysia and its waters. But the reality is that the Malaysian government hasn’t very much changed its position that it can resolve issues diplomatically with China. The New York Times report quoting “a senior Asian diplomat” saying that Malaysia has been in discussion with the United States on such has to be considered in context. There are some Asian countries that might see it as advantageous to draw a wedge between Malaysia and China, and thus tell the media something that may not be true for such a purpose. It also illustrates the danger of relying on a single source to determine the truth.

The Malaysian government is very much aware of how stretched the Malaysian Armed Forces are to cover the area in question. Allowing the United States to set up in East Malaysia for the purpose of monitoring China would only provoke the Chinese to step up their activities in the area, further taxing the RMN and RMAF, which makes it counter-productive, without mentioning the (domestic) political infeasibility. Unfortunately this type of context is seldom visible to those writing from Washington or New York, leading to narrative displaced from reality.

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defence journalist based in Malaysia and a regular writer on the Malaysian military and defence developments in Malaysia for a number of international defence publications groups including IHS Janes, Shephard Media, Mönch Publishing Group and Ventura Media.


Camouflage: You Ain’t Screen Nothin’ Yet

By James Drennan

Using a television to watch TV is so 20th Century. Screens can do much more these days. The civilian sector is proving that and the Navy needs to take heed. Specifically, the Navy should use electronic displays in new and innovative ways to communicate among its deployed forces, confuse potential enemies, and even disguise its ships and shore facilities. It is not often that one talks about screens as innovative since the television has been commercially available for almost a century, but display technologies have advanced so dramatically since the early days of television that they can now be used cost-effectively for entirely new purposes. Considering the ever tightening budgets looming in the Navy’s future, it would do well to invest in proven technology, like the digital electronic display, and generate operational advantage through creative employment. What if an aircraft carrier could change its hull number at will? Or if a strike group could communicate at high data rates without transmitting a signal? Imagine a warship being able to sail right through an enemy fleet in broad daylight by simulating the appearance of a merchant vessel. These ideas may seem like science fiction, but they are all possible through the use of technologies that are used by millions every day.

Digital electronic display technologies, such as light emitting diode (LED), liquid crystal display (LCD), plasma, and digital projection, have advanced and proliferated rapidly in recent years. This has caused unit cost to decrease and quality and capability to increase. These technologies are no longer just for watching television or working on a computer. Massive LED screens are common on digital billboards, while nearly half of all Americans carry high resolution displays in their pockets in the form of smartphones. Displays are even beginning to break out of their traditional rectangular shape. LEDs can now be manufactured so that panels can be flexibly conformed to curved or irregular surfaces. Projection mapping techniques enable projectors to display images on three dimensional surfaces. All of these technologies have the potential to revolutionize the way the Navy operates for pennies on the dollar.

Consider the island superstructure on an aircraft carrier. Large white painted hull numbers take up about a quarter of the inboard and outboard faces of the island. They serve one purpose: identify the ship in order to comply with international regulations. The numbers are lined with dozens of light bulbs which can either be turned on or off. Aside from ceremonial ambience, it is difficult to see what value they provide.


Sailors scrub down the island superstructure on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). They could be watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Image Courtesy: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Shawnte Bryan/Released. Retrieved from:


If the lights and the painted numbers were replaced with digital displays, the Commanding Officer of the carrier would have several new options at his or her disposal. For one, the screens could be set to display any hull number or none at all. Obviously, removing or changing hull numbers would not hide the ship, but against a capable and professional enemy it might confuse their decision making process enough to delay or deter an attack. As an example, the US Navy today requires significant confirmation, often visual, to establish and maintain maritime domain awareness (MDA). If the same ship were to be reported in three different locations, mission effectiveness would suffer while watchstanders tried to sort out the discrepancy. Conflicting reports are like poison to a networked force. Even if the superstructure screens were blank, the CO may find advantage in denying the enemy useful intelligence. In World War II, the Pacific Fleet removed visible numbers from aircraft carriers and did not return them until the Japanese were no longer a threat.

An island superstructure screen could also be used as a visual aid for flight deck operations. The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is an extremely loud and dangerous work environment. It is often difficult for crews to hear anything but jet noise. Visual messages could supplement audible alarms to indicate emergencies, not only grabbing attention but also relaying critical information. Conversely, an outboard screen could aid in force protection efforts, particularly in precarious situations like anchoring in popular foreign ports. If a wayward sightseer saw his leisure craft on the screen with the word “STOP” written in several different languages, the message would be received loud and clear.

Digital displays can also be a cost-effective means of communicating messages over long distances. In an effort to move the Navy away from highly detectable radio communications, optical communication techniques are gaining attention, but they often rely on technologies such as laser, which require more research and development (R&D) investment. Digital displays offer the possibility of optical communications without any R&D required. For example, a popular manufacturing and advertising concept called a quick reaction (QR) code uses a matrix of black and white squares to store data, which can be read by a camera on a smartphone or other computing device. When large digital displays (such as the aforementioned “superstructure screen”) are coupled with high resolution digital cameras (another readily available technology), ships within sight of each other could communicate optically, much like age old flashing light or semaphore techniques, but with much higher data rates.


A driveway turned QR code as viewed from space. Using a screen, this house could become a satellite communications node. Image Courtesy: Google Earth. Retrieved from


Since the interpretation of QR codes is automated, data rate is only limited by a computer’s ability to process each new code. Data rate, fidelity, and communications range will only increase as display and camera technologies improve. This concept could easily be applied to satellite communications, as shown above. Communication would depend heavily upon adequate visibility, but this “digital semaphore” technique could offer a cost-effective method of optical communication while recapitalizing some of the capabilities lost by the disestablishment of the Signalman rating in 2003.

Perhaps the most ambitious use of digital display technologies would be to disguise an entire ship. Much like “digital semaphore” could revolutionize optical communications at sea, the digital version of deceptive lighting could revolutionize naval deception. Deceptive lighting is a standard technique used by US Navy ships to conceal their identity at night by changing their normal lighting configurations. The effectiveness of deceptive lighting is debatable and, in any case, it offers no cover from the enemy when the sun rises. Digital displays could be used in daylight hours to complete the deception. Research into this concept, called active camouflage[1], is well underway. In fact, in 2011 BAE released an active camouflage for tanks called Adaptiv© that works in the infrared, not visible, portion of the spectrum.


The frames in the image show an armoured vehicle with Adaptiv off (left) and on (right), where the chosen object is a large car. Image Courtesy: BAE Systems, Copyright © 2011. Retrieved from:

The visible version is not far off. In March 2012, Mercedes Benz made one of their new vehicles nearly invisible by covering it with flexible LED panels that displayed images from a camera on the other side of the vehicle. The aim of active camouflage in naval applications would not be to make a warship invisible, but rather to appear as a different kind of ship not worthy of the enemy’s attention. Displaying a false hull form instead of trying to make the ship invisible actually could reduce some technical challenges of active camouflage, such as the requirement to know the viewer’s look angle in advance. Furthermore, a warship has several other signatures, such as radar return and visible wake, which are impossible to eliminate completely.


To promote the environmental ‘invisibility’ of the zero-emission, hydrogen-fuelled Mercedes F-Cell, ad agency Jung von Matt covered the car in LED sheets which would display a live video image whatever was behind the car, as filmed by a camera attached to the other side. (Image Courtesy: Mercedes-Benz. Retrieved from:


Although the technology still needs to mature in order to be feasible for use on ships at sea, the concept is simple (indeed BAE is already working hard to apply Adaptiv to warships at sea). A ship’s freeboard and superstructure could be covered in conformal LED paneling to display an image of a merchant or some other vessel, provided it is not protected by international treaties like a hospital ship.


Artist rendition of Adaptiv camouflage applied in the maritime domain. (Image Courtesy: BAE Systems, Copyright © 2014, retrieved from:


Naval active camouflage would be intended to fool routine enemy surveillance from near-horizon distance, not ships in close contact or aircraft conducting targeted search efforts. However, in combination with emissions control (EMCON) and careful maneuver (i.e. staying within shipping lanes and avoiding close approaches to enemy assets), the appearance of a merchant vessel on the horizon would fit the enemy’s expectations and cause him to focus his surveillance efforts elsewhere. Another potential use of naval active camouflage can be found in a historical example. In World Wars I and II, the Allies took inspiration from the art world and painted their ships with irregular patterns of contrasting geometric shapes, called dazzle camouflage, to confuse enemy rangefinders, particularly on submarines. Dazzle camouflage fell out of favor with the advent of radar, but today the digital version could prove valuable, particularly against low end threats. Without advanced fire control radars, terrorists and pirates rely on their vision to target or avoid naval warships, depending on their particular goals. Even without disguising identity, creative use of adaptive camouflage could make it nearly impossible for a threat to determine a warship’s true aspect, just like dazzle camouflage, and consequently, how to engage or maneuver effectively.


USS Mahomet (ID-3681) in port, circa November 1918. The ship has a “dazzle” camouflage scheme that distorts the appearance of her bow. Image Courtesy: Naval History and Heritage Command. Retrieved from:

Using display technologies to make warships appear as something else is not a completely new concept for the modern US Navy. In September 2011 as part of the 5th Annual Midway American Patriot Awards gala, the island superstructure of the USS Midway was transformed into a waving American flag using a different kind of display technology called projection mapping. AV Concepts, Inc. used 3D projectors, advanced graphics software, and creative lighting techniques to virtually “paint” the flag onto the ship with stunning clarity and realism.


The American flag virtually draped over USS Midway using projecting mapping technology at the 5th Annual Midway American Patriot Awards. The projection of the flag onto the hull was so precise, some guests thought ship was covered with a flat projection screen. Image Courtesy: AV Concepts, Inc. Retrieved from:

While not an ideal technology for afloat forces, projection mapping could be used to fool optical sensors by blending shore facilities into their surroundings. Again, history provides an intriguing parallel. After the 1941 raid on Pearl Harbor, Lockheed Martin desperately needed to hide its Burbank, CA aircraft plant from Japanese fighters. With the help of nearby Walt Disney Studios, they used canvas, paint, and chicken wire to cover the massive industrial facility with scenery of a quiet rural community. By employing a little artistic creativity, the Burbank plant was able to continue operations throughout the war. Blending this type of creativity with modern display technology could provide cover against today’s more advanced optical sensors.


An aircraft manufacturing plant disguised as a suburban Burbank neighborhood during World War II. With modern display and projection technology, the same concept could be applied to counter modern enemy surveillance efforts. Image Courtesy: Lockheed Martin Corporation. Retrieved from:


The decreasing cost and increasing performance trends of proven display technologies offer the Navy a cost-effective way to generate revolutionary capabilities. Emerging technologies, such as electronic paper (e.g. E Ink® on Amazon’s Kindle®) and phased array optics[2] (think “the Holodeck from Star Trek”), promise to bring even more capabilities into the fold. Certainly, there will be challenges like increased maintenance requirements that must be considered to determine operational feasibility. Also, enemies will undoubtedly adapt to the capabilities described here, but simply affecting an enemy’s operations can have real value. Still, all of these capabilities are useless if the Navy does not have operational concepts for them. Without imagination and an innovative mix of art and science, the Navy will miss this opportunity to increase its combat power and, instead, give potential enemies a few more ways to bring parity to the world’s oceans.


[1] Unfortunately, the term “digital camouflage” is already in use to describe patterns on uniforms.

[2] The technology behind phased array optics is still several decades from reaching maturity.

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