Disciplining the Empire — Dr. Sarah Kinkel on the Eighteenth-Century British Royal Navy

By Christopher Nelson

Author and Professor Sarah Kinkel joins us to discuss her new book Disciplining the Empire: Politics, Governance, and the Rise of the British Navy.

Nelson: Professor Sarah Kinkel, thank you so much for spending some time with me today to talk about your fascinating new book, Disciplining the Empire: Politics, Governance, and the Rise of the British Navy. Let’s start with your time as a student at Yale, where you got your Masters and later a PhD in history. How was your experience at Yale?

Kinkel: I actually majored as an undergraduate in Political Science and International Relations, and I thought that would be a direction I would be interested in going. I ended up with an accidental minor in history because they were always my favorite classes. So anytime I had a chance for an elective, it was always a history class.

Like a lot of twenty-two-year-olds, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do. I took a couple of years off between undergraduate and graduate school. I thought about what kind of path I might want to be on, and I kept coming back to the fact that if all my favorite classes were history classes, and I ended up with this minor in it, then that was pretty compelling evidence that this was something that I was really interested in.  

It fascinates me to think about people’s lives and their experiences from the past and some of the systems they built to manage uncertainty. To me it really is one of the things I like about history because it encourages you to think in big picture ways and ask questions about the way societies work and what holds them together. And I think you can ask similar types of questions about societies throughout history. While I was at Yale I was a teacher’s assistant for a class on the Roman Empire. It was great; I learned so much. I didn’t know any more going into the class than the students did. But my training in early modern Europe helped me think about some of the religious, political, and social changes during the days of the Roman Empire.

I had a fantastic time at Yale. I really couldn’t say enough great things about the program, about my mentors. I came in knowing I wanted to do something with British imperial historybut not sure quite what. I was working with Steve Pincus, who is a historian of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British Empire. And then, as I started to gravitate toward a more naval focus, I also worked closely with Paul Kennedy. Both Kennedy and Pincus where fantastic mentors and great advisors.

One of the things I really appreciated about Yale was the fact that even if I had a professor and even if I only had one class with them, they were all so generous with their time. I expected when I came in as graduate student that some of the professors would blow me offI mean, these are incredibly busy, important people, Pulitzer Prize-winning historians. But they were always so generous with their time. And they seemed interested in working with graduate students. That was something that I really appreciated about being there.

Nelson: What was your favorite class at Yale?

Kinkel: My favorite classand in the big scheme, it influenced my thoughts about my bookwas actually a class in the political science department with professor Vivek Sharma. It was a class on the social and cultural history of violence. The class covered how we can understand violence in warfare but also in societies. We use violence against our enemies, but we also use it to police the boundaries of our communities. There’s always an acceptable form of violencebut what is it? It was a class about thinking about the connections between societies and the way that violence is carried out.

That class to me was so eye opening. We talked about everything from chivalry to genocide. Thinking about warfare in that context, as not being something that is culturally neutral, that was interesting to me and sowed seeds for my graduate work, as it turned out.

Nelson: I want to touch on military studies in academia. In my opinion military history is undervalued or not even represented in many university curricula. They simply don’t include history courses on warfare. Of course, there is the U.S. Civil War, which pops up in many history programs for various reasons. But if you’re an undergraduate or even a graduate student today, it’s hard to find a program that really digs into the history of warfare. Do you agree? Your thoughts?

Kinkel: I think it is probably true to say that military history has been sidelined. I think that one of the good things about how we are doing history now as opposed to fifty years ago is that we are asking different types of questions and we are including the history of different types of people. That is all good. But I’m sorry that there isn’t more interest in taking something that is as important and world shaping as warfare and violence seriously. Military history is really, really important. To me, that means less the discussion of operational movements or tactical movements of forces in a battlethat’s not what I spend a lot of time thinking about. It’s important to military professionals, like yourself, of course, to focus on and to learn. But what I want to focus on is how military and politics connect and affect each other.

Still, I agree with your assessment. There is not much of a presence for military history in academia today. And when military history is included, I’m still not sure it’s as embedded in the bigger picture of decisions, consequential events, and other social factors as it should be. 

Nelson: What is it about the British Royal Navy that fascinates you?

Kinkel: I originally came to the Royal Navy as a historical fan girl. My grandfather was in the U.S. Navy. I don’t know if that influenced my father. But my father has always been a big history lover. We’d sit around the dinner table at home and he would tell us Horatio Nelson stories. I started being drawn in to some of those classic naval myths. Of course, they’re not all myths, but there is some mythology around them. When I was able to travel to England and see Nelson’s bullet-ripped uniform in the National Maritime Museum, wow, it is such a compelling series of stories. I started to wonder why British naval captains fought that way when not everybody did. It seemed to me that the naval histories I read left it at ‘Well, they were British, so it must make sense.’ I’m not sure that is a compelling historical answer.

Admiral Horatio Nelson’s Bullet Ridden Uniform (Wikimedia Commons)

Nelson: For the readers, briefly, how would describe your book?

Kinkel: This is a book that explains the eighteenth-century rise of the Royal Navy by integrating that story with the major political debates of the century. Other books have explained how Britain was able to build the world’s most dominant naval force, and have pointed to elements like geography, economy, institutions, and battle culture—which are all important but don’t necessarily take into account the fact that there were real arguments over the form and function of the navy. This book explains why some people (but not others) thought an aggressive, powerful, and disciplined navy would be a good idea, and how that battle culture was actually created, because it wasn’t innate.

I think that for far too long naval history and political history have been kept separate. That is just stunning to me. The Royal Navy was the single largest organization of people and resources in the entire empire. It was inherently political. We know how deeply divided the British Empire was over issues like the constitution; over the question of who gets to hold authority in society; over what the empire should look like. And the navy was fundamentally tied to those questions.

Nelson: In your introduction you refer to “political contestation” as a topic that is rarely covered. Is this what you are referring to–issues over political authority–when you say “political contestation”?

Kinkel: Yes. Absolutely. A lot of people in the eighteenth century agreed that there were problems facing British Imperial society. They disagreed fundamentally about what the most important problems were and how to solve them.

Nelson: I enjoyed learning about some the historic figures in your book. Who were some of the consequential personalities that shaped the Royal Navy in the eighteenth century? What were the governing bodies that ran that navy back then?

Kinkel: It is a navy that changes over time during the eighteenth century. It starts out and continues to be a complex set of overlapping bureaucracies. There’s five different bureaucratic boards that have authority over different aspects of naval affairs. We tend today to think about the Admiralty as the first and foremost of the organizations. It became that way, but during the time period I focus on,  in theory the Admiralty only has control over officers and ships that are currently in service. The Navy Board, which is a separate institution, and coequal to the Admiralty Board, has control over shipbuilding, dockyards, and supplies. There’s an Ordnance Board and there’s also a Sick-and-Hurt Board that deals with invalid sailors. So the Admiralty can’t really tell the other boards what to do. At the beginning of the century, it is not clear what kind of role, if any, that the Admiralty might actually have in shaping policy. The head of the Admiralty Board is not automatically a cabinet position. There’s even periods in the first decade of the eighteenth century where there isn’t an Admiralty Boardthey decide they just don’t need it.

There’s no one person who is clearly responsible for everything that is happening in the navy. In the early years of the century, the most powerful people were the admirals themselves. They had small fiefdoms over their ships, patronage, and recruitment. Even in the early 1740s there’s a period where George II lets one of the senior admirals have command over all of the ships in home waters without having to go through the Admiralty first.

This, as you can imagine, is chaotic. It is up to individuals in different bureaucracies to make things happen. If you have political capital and energy, this helps. But it is up to individuals who hold particular positions. We start to see a change in the middle of the 1740s. In December of 1744 there is a new group of Admiralty commissioners who come into the Admiralty Board. They are a combination of politicians and sea officers. They start to institute a series of naval reforms. And this is the core of my book. So at that point, you see the Admiralty Board start to increasingly assert itself politicallyin Parliament, among politicians, monopolizing authority over other boards, and officers as wellbut at the same time they put in place naval reforms that were designed to strengthen and centralize the control over this massive, sprawling bureaucratic structure.

John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford (Wikipedia Commons)

Naval historians have attributed these reforms to one of  the sea officers who came in to this Admiralty Board in 1744George Ansonhe’s newly famous and had just circumnavigated the globe, plundered the Spanish, and he’s quite popular. Yet I think this attribution is misplaced because in my opinion, the reforms come more from two of the politicians who joined this board: John Russell, the fourth the Duke of Bedford, and John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. These politicians come in and make changes that they want to see in the British Empire, and British society, and they do so by using the navy to accomplish some of those goals.

Nelson: I want to turn to British Naval professionalism. When does the British Navy realize that they need to professionalize? What does that actually mean? For example, I don’t believe they even had a standard naval uniform in the early eighteenth century, correct?

Kinkel: Great question. I don’t think there is a consensus about the question of professionalism in the eighteenth century. There was always disagreement and push-back to professionalizing the naval force. And I’ll get into those reasons in a moment.

We start to see the argument for professionalization in the 1730s, and then it really comes forward in the 1740s. Britain is once again involved in a colonial imperial struggle with France and with Spain. It doesn’t go well for the Royal Navy. The one lone exception is Admiral Edward Vernon who has a much celebrated victory at Porto Bello. The navy is just not doing well in the war. There are lots of metrics that people are using to indicate how poorly they’re performing. Merchant ships are reporting that naval convoys abandoned them to privateers; there are navy captains fleeing in the face of numerically inferior forces; and there are lots of public pamphlets that say that sea officers aren’t thirsty for French blood, they are thirsty for French wineand they don’t want to spill a drop of either. Professionalism, then, is put forward as one possible answer to these issues.

To me, I think it means that they need to make the navy look more like a professional standing army. Because now they have ideas and examples to go by. We know the standing army revolution has already happened a century before. I think they want to create something similarI call it a permanent standing navythat is going to be there in war, and it is going to be there in peacetime. So now you are going to get career officers, trained and disciplined sailors, standardized processes, and a clear hierarchical command. This is going to be a navy that can be trusted to behave reliably. Once an order has gone out, it will be followed or there will be consequences. You’re absolutely right to point out that in the context of these reforms, this is the first naval uniform. In the decades previous, you couldn’t necessarily tell who is in the navy and who is not. There is not a uniform to mark people out. Ships at various pointsmerchant ships for examplewere co opted into royal fleets for battles in the 17th century. And were still  privateers on the oceansthese are private ships of wars.

Even in constitutional theory, sailors were understood to be in the navy in so far as their name is listed in the ship’s books. If your name is not listed in the ship’s books, then you aren’t in the navy anymore. And for officers, there wasn’t a coherent career path. In the late seventeenth century, you might be a gunner in one ship, and then you might be a lieutenant on the next, and then go on to the merchant marine force.

Professionalizing the force is meant to transform this navy into something of permanence, something that is reliable and clearly marked out from civilian ships, from private naval warfare. The people who want professionalization are pretty skeptical of private violence, which could be in the hands of just anyone, and really want something that is clearly not that.

Nelson: What are some examples of how the Royal Navy incentivized behavior at sea?

Kinkel: This is one of the areas that I want to push back against the classic story about the military revolution and how it happened and its effects on society. One version goes like this: There’s transformation in technology that then forced transformation in warfare and then that in turn forced changes in politics and society, and that’s how you get the modern state. Now, again, that’s one argument. I think it’s not completely wrong, but in this case it’s also not completely right.

There is no transformation in technology in the British Navy in the course of the eighteenth century that suddenly makes officers and ships better fighters. There’s a couple of tweaks. We get copper sheathing for example, late in the century. It makes ships more sustainable in the longer-term in warmer waters. But what we’re fundamentally talking about are changes in behavior. One of the conundrums this Admiralty Board faces is that you can’t directly supervise what your officers are doing at sea. By definition if you want to have a navy that you can send to project power to the far sides of the world, it is going to partially be out of your control. That’s why it is so important to have officers that you believe are reliable. So they think a lot about how do you constrain and shape behavior. There is an emphasis, to some extent, on training–certainly there is an emphasis on training a ship for combat.

There was some skepticism in British society about whether you could train officers on shore or if you needed to send officers to sea to train and learn the profession practically. There were some new investments in training young officers at the Portsmouth Naval Academy. But the focus during this time is on practical education. In terms of shaping officers’ behavior, the Admiralty is helped by the fact that there were always more would-be sea officers than active positionsespecially in peacetime. So they let it be known that your continued employment, if you wanted one of these limited positions, would mean you would actually have to follow the system.

They then followed through with the carrot and stick approach. If you followed their orders, and fought the way they wanted to fight, and created the culture onboard your ship that they wanted, you could expect promotion, a chance at prize money, and a good cruise at sea. And because these officers are in direct competition with on another, this incentivizes their behavior. If you don’t follow these rules, you’re not going to get anywhere. There’s nothing worseas we learn from the Patrick O’Brian novels–than being a forty-something lieutenant without prospects. That’s just not a good place to be.

One of the reforms the Royal Navy institutes is a new rank: Admiral of the Yellow. Previously the idea was once you became a post captain, you rose up the ranks and then eventually retired as an admiral. The problem was that the Royal Navy couldn’t pick out the best sea officer for the job because of this system of hierarchy. There was always someone senior for a command, who if he wasn’t chosen, it caused offense and sometimes political scandals. But when they created this new rankAdmiral of the Yellowthe Royal Navy could now appoint as many people as they wanted to this new rank without having to give them a command. This allows the Admiralty to reach as far down the ranks as they want to promote the officers they think are the best. None of these reforms were universally accepted, by the way—officers were invested in the existing system and not all of them wanted to see it changed. People complained about the fact that there might now be “boy captains,” as they termed it; some people refused to wear the uniform; the Navy Board ignored Admiralty attempts to standardize shipbuilding. Name the reform and there was resistance. But the Royal Navy acted pretty quickly to put teeth behind these reforms and to, shall we say, “dissuade” protests from within the service.

Ceramic dish showing capture of Porto Bello (Wikimedia Commons)

In 1746, Admiral Vernon, one of the most popular officers at the timea man whose face was on household items, on posters, prints hanging in houses, salt shakers, you name it, he was a celebrity in mid-eighteenth-century Britaingot into a power struggle with the Admiralty Board. He said he wasn’t given high enough commands for his honor. He thought he wasn’t given enough autonomy and that the Admiralty was trying to constrain him. He was flaunting his public power. Yet the Admiralty cashiered him. They were willing to fire the most popular face of the service. This emphasized to the younger officers that continued employment in the navy meant that you had to abide by the Admiralty Board’s direction.  

Nelson: What is the importance of the Naval Act of 1749? You mentioned Admiral Byng earlier, who was he and why is his fate linked to that famous naval act?

Kinkel: The members of the Admiralty Board were pretty clever at incentivizing sea officers to go along with the new culture of naval service they hoped to create. Promotion and continued employment were clear carrots, but they also wanted to have a stick they could use. There had been a number of very politically contentious courts martial earlier in the 1740s, and one in particular after the 1744 Battle of Toulon in which an officer who chose not to fight was exonerated—because he had the right political connections—while an officer who did fight was cashiered. To prevent something like that from happening again, the new Admiralty Board put forward what became known as the 1749 Navy Bill. The bill was hugely controversial and was only passed after some intense parliamentary debate and public protest.

It did a number of things, but the overall point was to rationalize existing naval martial law and to remove leeway from courts martial in how they applied that law. The effects of the Navy Bill were made clear a few years later, when Britain went back to war with France in 1756. British ministers received information that the French intended to capture the island of Minorca, which was an important British base in the Mediterranean. They sent Admiral John Byng to prevent that. Byng showed up, the French were already there but hadn’t captured the fort yet, and even though he outnumbered them, Byng decided that the day was already lost and he sailed back to Gibraltar instead, leaving the French to take the island. When news got back to Britain, people went absolutely ballistic. Some people blamed Byng as a coward, some people blamed the administration for not having sent him earlier, there were riots, pamphlets, people saying the prime minister should be executed—it was wild. Byng was court martialed, and there was really no way for the court to find him innocent of the charge that he “had not done his utmost to obey His Majesty’s orders.”

The Execution of Admiral Byng/Wikimedia Commons

In earlier years, that could have meant a number of things in terms of actual punishment, but the 1749 Navy Bill said there was only one possible outcome for that offense: death. Byng was rich, and well-connected, and he was executed regardless. That really sent an incredibly stark signal to all the other sea officers that the dangers of disobedience were real. I think it’s not a coincidence that in the years right after Byng’s execution, in the rest of the Seven Years’ War, we start to see sea officers behaving and fighting in far more aggressive ways. They chased enemies into dangerous shoals and rocky bays rather than back down, for example, and increasingly risked their fleets against superior forces. For me, the 1749 Navy Bill and Byng’s execution, which proved that the Admiralty really meant it, set the tone for what would be expected of sea officers for the rest of the century. They’re the foundations of the new naval culture that would eventually lead to victories like Trafalgar.

Nelson:  You describe in your book how the Royal Navy created a legacy of officers that were good at their job. This is largely done by patronage. What was patronage in the eighteenth century Royal Navy? And while naval officers use a different term today—“mentoring” maybe, or “grooming”—what are the similarities and differences between patronage in the eighteenth century and the twenty-first century?

Kinkel: I don’t think that people would have thought about patronage as nepotism or favoritism–not back then. The way it worked over the eighteenth century is we don’t see politicians influencing naval promotion. Letters of recommendations for would-be sea officers are coming from other sea officers. After mid-century, they really are increasingly emphasizing the idea of merit. And it would reflect badly on a superior officer if you pull up someone who goes out and wrecks their first ship. There is an incentive in terms of your own reputation and legacy to identify talent.

From my perspective I see this as not dissimilar to how I think patronage continues to work in our contemporary world. Generally speaking, people in positions of authority want to be supported by people of talent. Big organizations are about teamwork. You need to have someone you can delegate to and you can trust and will make you look good. If your subordinates are bad at their job it will make you look bad. I think this is true in business and politics and other spheres today, just as it was back then. I don’t think patronage is inherently divorced from the concept of merit. I do have an axe to grind when people talk about patronage as somehow antithetical to merit. Now, it can be in some circumstances–but again, I would just call that nepotism. Patronage is a vote of confidence. And absolutely, yes, it can be a vote of confidence on the basis of merit. I say this in the book: today we still rely on personal connections to advance in life, we just call it “networking.” Fundamentally, eighteenth-century patronage is not much different from modern concepts. Some people do fall through the cracks and some talent is not identified, but broadly, people accepted this system.

Nelson: In your book, you’ve included 90 pages of notes. What sources did you rely on? What sources did you keep coming back to?

Kinkel: Some of the books that influenced me first were books on political history and turmoil in eighteenth-century Britain. I saw a disconnect between how naval historians described this period and how political historians described this period. I thought there was a disconnect. Some of the books that I was reading that did influence how I was thinking about maritime history were books by N.A.M. Rodger, Daniel Baugh, and Jeremy Black. One of the examples I thought my book could look like was Kathleen Wilson’s Sense of the People. It’s a book about the arguments over empire. She touches on the resonance that maritime issues clearly had for a large sector of the British population. She talked about Admiral Vernon, she talked about Admiral Byng. So her books showed me one possible version of what fused politically aware history of the navy could look like.

Nelson: Professor, to close, what are some of your favorite books on maritime history?

Kinkel: I think we have a tendency to think about oceans as negative space. But back then, so much of what is important to eighteenth-century Britain takes place on the ocean. From that perspective, I want to read about history that can connect the ocean with the land. For me, my favorite books about maritime history have always been books that show the big picture what’s at stake with everything that happens on the ocean.

One book that came out a few years ago that is really interesting is The Saltwater Frontier by Andrew Lipman. It is about how the areas of coastal waters between what’s now Cape Cod and the Hudson River became a space of contestation and negotiation between a number of European and Native American powers in the early days of colonization.  

Another book that came out in the last couple of years that I really admired is Sam Willis’ book The Struggle for Sea Power. It is, to some extent, a history of the naval campaigns of the American Revolution. But it is a book that takes place almost as much on land or in coastal waters or rivers or lakes as it does on the open ocean. He makes a really compelling point that navies were symbols. There is a moment when the leading citizens of Providence burn a naval ship to the waterline and shoot its commander. Willis points out, rightly, that the burning of the HMS Gaspee is a political statement. During the American Revolution the British are obsessed with building full-sized frigates on Lake Champlain. They definitely don’t need to do this to control these waters. They actually deconstruct a sloop and pull it through the woods plank by plank and rebuild it on the lake. The book deals really well with technical issues–like why navigating sea ice is so hard–but it also deals a lot with the wide varieties of ways navies mattered: economically, politically, and symbolically.

Something that recently I taught in a class on the American Revolution, is a chapter on Boston from Benjamin Carp’s book Rebels Rising. It’s a book that about cities, not ships, but this chapter is one of the best descriptions I’ve seen about how fundamentally maritime power, money, and life Boston was. It is also just a really well-written book. A lot of my students picked this book as their favorite read during the semester.

Finally, I love the movie Master & Commander. One of the things we struggle with as historians is trying to recapture the experience of what it would have been like during the time. I just think that movie is so good. It’s what I imagine the experience of being on an eighteenth-century warship would have been like–it’s so visceral and brutal and tedious. Sometimes when you watch a film and the topic is close to your day job, you’re so fixated on inaccuracies that they can ruin the film. But I never feel this way when I watch this movie.

If I ever taught a class that was just about maritime history, I would make the class watch the movie. There are different ways of telling stories about the past–historians tell them one way, novelists another, and filmmakers another. I’m not convinced one is better than the other in recreating the reality of people’s experiences. Good historical fiction has a real role to play in telling these stories.

Nelson: Professor, this was great. Thank you.

Sarah Kinkel received her PhD from Yale University in 2012. From 2012-2015, she was the managing editor of Eighteenth-Century Studies. She has since taught as an Assistant Professor at Ohio University.

Christopher Nelson is a U.S. Naval Officer stationed at the U.S. Pacific Fleet Headquarters. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School. He is a regular contributor to CIMSEC. The questions and views here are his own.

Featured Image: The capture of Porto Bello. George Chambers Sr. (Wikimedia Commons)

What Will the Future Hold for Arctic Economics?

By Rachel Gosnell

Introduction

The economic potential of the Arctic is vast, but the complexities of the region must be considered when analyzing the future of the Arctic. While the region north of the Arctic Circle is commonly viewed as a singular expanse, the reality is rather different. Within the Arctic – and amongst the eight Arctic nations – there exists noteworthy similarities but also tremendous variations. Indeed, the Arctic is a diverse part of the world that would be best characterized as several different subregions, all with unique resources, populations, accessibility, geostrategic importance, and challenges. It is critical to analyze economic drivers and political factors across the High North in order to evaluate the economic potential of the region, understand national security interests, and develop appropriate Arctic policy.

A Challenging Environment

One constant throughout the Arctic region is the hostile climate. Record setting cold, ice-covered waters, rapidly emerging storms, and high winds define the region. The warming trends of the High North, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) note are about double the rate of global warming trends, are of such a magnitude that the pace of sea ice decline and surface ocean warming is unprecedented. This warming is contributing to an alarming decline in ice coverage at sea and permafrost ashore. The warming trends are forecasted to continue at an increasingly rapid rate due to the albedo effect, making Arctic weather more unpredictable as the likelihood of fog, storms, and even ice floes rises in upcoming years. All Arctic states must confront these challenges and share a common interest in conducting research to better understand the scientific trends that are emerging in the region.

The majority – nearly half – of the Arctic’s four million inhabitants live in the Russian Arctic, with the largest communities located in Murmansk and Norilsk. These cities dwarf the largest comparable North American communities, though population trends indicate a slight shift toward growth in the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic. Yet the Arctic population in total is predicted to experience only a slight upward growth in the upcoming decades, with just a 4 percent growth rate predicted through 2030. When compared with the global growth rate projection of 29 percent over the same period, it becomes clear that the region will not becoming a booming source of labor. Indeed, the Business Index North 2018 report notes that many cities in the Arctic are confronting challenges stemming from the loss of the region’s youth – who move south in search of education and jobs – and a gender imbalance. Further, as the Arctic warms, attracting interest to the region, the indigenous communities are facing new challenges. Thawing permafrost is causing damages to infrastructure as the ground becomes less stable. Developing new infrastructure to support economic development will require innovative approaches in a region not experienced in such issues. The logistical difficulties of transporting building materials and expertise will further compound the issue. 

The warming trends, however, will certainly enable further economic activity in the region. Diminishing sea ice coverage is enabling greater maritime traffic. However, it remains unlikely that the northern routes will become competitors of the Suez Canal despite the difference and significantly shorter distance (approximately 4,700nm) from Northern Europe to East Asia that amounts to a decreased transit time of 12 to 15 days if weather conditions cooperate. Yet of the primary identified shipping routes through the Arctic – the Northern Sea Route (NSR), Northwest Passage (NWP), and Transpolar Route (TPR) – only the NSR will have extended periods of opening through approximately 2025. 

Map of the Arctic region showing shipping routes Northeast Passage, Northern Sea Route, and Northwest Passage, and bathymetry (Wikimedia Commons)

New Opportunities 

Shipping companies and countries alike are exploring the potential new trade routes. Putin has exclaimed that the Northern Sea Route will rival international trade lanes and indeed, there has been an increase of vessel activity in the region. In 2017, the Northern Sea Route Administration (NSRA) issued 662 permissions to vessels for navigation along the NSR, though only 107 of these for foreign (non-Russian) flagged vessels. During that year, the NSRA notes that 9.74 million tons of various freights were transported by vessels, though mostly between ports located along the NSR. Indeed, in 2017, there were only 24 vessels and 194,364 tons of cargo that transited the duration of the route – much less than the record high in 2013 when China’s COSCO and others sent cargos through to explore the possibility of a maritime route. That year, aided by exceptional weather conditions, 71 vessels and 1.36 million tons of cargo transited the Northern Sea Route. Yet this still pales in comparison to the Suez Canal traffic, which saw more than 17,600 vessels and 1.04 billion tons of cargo in 2017.

Weather and vessel size limitations – due to reduced water depths and widths limited to icebreaker accompaniment – will reduce the efficiencies of the commercial shipping industry, which values economies of scale and the just-in-time shipping model. Arctic shipping in its current state is not yet reliable enough to adhere to these requirements, although when the Transpolar Route opens it may become more appealing. China has already looked northward to link the “Polar Silk Road” to its broader One Belt One Road Initiative. Yet weather will remain a challenge, with unpredictable ice floes moving into vessel routes, harsh storms, and cold operating temperatures. The International Maritime Organization’s Polar Code was a solid effort to improve safety and establish training and operating standards for vessels in the Arctic, but it will likely need continuous updates to remain relevant. International coordination on Arctic maritime safety and emergency response will be critical to ensuring the prevention – or expeditious response – of a maritime crisis. Given the fragility of the environment, hostile conditions, and dearth of emergency response capabilities in the Arctic, cooperation will be critical to the future.

Another significant economic driver for the region is the abundant presence of energy both on shore and within the exclusive economic zones of the five Arctic coastal nations. Several countries have already submitted claims to further extend their claims under the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. This includes a number of overlapping claims, to include the Lomonosov Ridge – and the North Pole. Although the United States remains the sole Arctic nation that has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) it appears that all Arctic nations will submit claims in accordance with UNCLOS. Yet the review of such claims make well take years due to the backlog of the Commission and the complexity of the review process. Until then, there remains a potential for disputes over economic resources, although Norway and Russia resolved the biggest dispute in the region peacefully in 2010. Currently the largest disputes in the Arctic are between the United States and Canada.

While oil and gas reserves are still unknown, it is estimated that the Arctic may hold nearly one-third of the world’s natural gas and thirteen percent of global oil reserves. Yet costs of exploring, developing, and extracting these resources are very high given the harsh environment, limited infrastructure, and difficulties posed. Given the current market prices, there is limited interest in pursuing these reserves in North America, though Norway and Russia are continuing development in the Barents and Kara Seas. The Chinese Nanhai-8 rig made an April 2018 discovery that may rank the Leningradskoye field as one of Russia’s largest natural gas fields. Indeed, China has also invested in the Yamal LNG project, which has ownership of 50.1 percent by Novatek, 20 percent by total, 20 percent by China National petroleum Company, and 9.9 percent by the Chinese Silk Road Fund. Production officially began in December 2017 and officials predict an annual production of up to 360 billion cubic meters of gas. The new Christophe de Margerie class of icebreaking LNG carriers – projected to be a total of 15 vessels at more than $300 million apiece – has commenced deliveries from Yamal to Asia. While the transit shipping of cargo may not be viable for decades, it is clear that Russia is intent on using the Northern Sea Route to ship commodities to market, albeit on a small scale when compared to the global maritime industry. Overall production of Arctic energy reserves will likely remain limited in the near future, unless the price of oil climbs significantly. Other sources of oil and gas – to include shale and using newer technology on older fields – will continue to remain a more economical option.

Mineral resources are also found in vast quantities throughout the Arctic, with all Arctic nations except Iceland possessing significant mineral deposits. While some new deposits are being revealed as ice coverage melts, it is likely that development in the near term will continue to focus on existing mines. It is predicted that infrastructure to these mines and areas will steadily be improved to permit future access.

Changes in climate are also likely to result in increased fishing in the Arctic. While there is little data on exact sizes of Arctic fishing stocks, it is likely that fish will continue migrations northward as the waters warm in the south. International fishing fleets will follow these fish, and the level of illegal and unreported fishing will likely rise due to the challenges of monitoring the vast region and lack of comprehensive maritime domain awareness. Yet this is also another opportunity for the Arctic coastal states to work together, in regulating and monitoring fishing. Likewise, the regulation of tourism in Arctic water – and the establishment of clear safety and emergency response protocols – will require cooperation from the Arctic states as the numbers of tourists rise. Indeed, the 2016 and 2017 Northwest Passage transits of the Crystal Serenity cruise ship and 1,800 passengers (900 guests) highlight the importance of developing both regulations and crisis response procedures as the adventure tourism industry continues to grow.

A final economic factor in the Arctic will be foreign direct investment. To date, the Arctic has received significant levels of FDI, with China being the largest source at an estimated $1.4 trillion invested into the economies of the Arctic nations from 2005-2017. Concerns arise over the potential for externalities associated with this investment, particularly given China’s record on labor and environmental issues. China’s recent Arctic White Paper establishes that China will continue to seek investment and other economic opportunities in the region. 

Conclusion

The Arctic is brimming with economic potential. Though the population will continue to be a small fraction of the global population, the region has significant natural resources and potential as a maritime trade route. With an annual economy presently exceeding $450 billion, it is likely that the region will experience further growth as the Arctic becomes increasingly accessible. Yet Arctic states must carefully regulate this growth in order to ensure protection of the environment, indigenous peoples, and their own strategic interests. This will further require significant cooperation amongst the nations of the High North – and those with interests in the region – in order to ensure the development and adherence to protocols and regulations that guide economic development. 

Rachael Gosnell is pursuing doctoral studies in International Security and Economic Policy at the University of Maryland, with a focus on maritime security in the Arctic. She holds a MA in International Security Studies from Georgetown University, a Masters in Engineering Management from Old Dominion University, and a Bachelors of Science in Political Science from the U.S. Naval Academy. She currently teaches Political Science at the U.S. Naval Academy. All views expressed are her own and do not reflect the U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Naval Academy.

Featured Image: Helicopter view of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (bottom left) stopped in the Arctic Ocean as Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St. Laurent (top right) comes alongside it. (Jessica K. Robertson/Public Domain)

Modular Mine Countermeasures: Maximizing a Critical Naval Force Capability

By Captain Hans Lynch and Dr. Sam Taylor

Introduction

“The mine issues no official communique.” – Adm. William V. Pratt

Mines are one of the most simple – and deadly – asymmetric weapons that can be employed to disrupt naval operations. Their ease of deployment and the danger they pose to warships is only compounded by the challenges associated with finding and destroying them. They are truly the weapons that wait.

Mine Countermeasures (MCM) is arguably one of the most dirty and dangerous of all naval missions to successfully prosecute. Of the 19 U.S. Navy ships seriously damaged or sunk since World War II, 15 are the direct result of hitting mines.  Today, however, the U.S. Navy is entering a new era in MCM as the strategy, techniques, organization, and technology that have long underpinned this mission are all undergoing a renaissance. The Navy’s long-held goal of deploying modular, flexible MCM capabilities is finally becoming an operational reality. This is the new era of the modular MCM force.

Pacing the Mine Warfare Threat

Mines are a growing operational concern as they proliferate in the naval arsenals of potential adversary nations. Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, to name just a few, all maintain robust inventories of mines and the sophistication of these weapons continues to grow. Mines are no longer the awkward-looking spiked devices bobbing on the ocean’s surface as depicted in photos and newsreels from World Wars I and II. Today, mines are highly advanced and come in many different varieties ranging from bottom-buried mines, to acoustically-actuated variants, to mines manufactured from composite materials. All of these advancements are designed to make ocean mine detection even more challenging.

For far too long the MCM mission and its specialized organization of ships, personnel, and systems have essentially operated as a force separate and apart from the larger Navy. Over the last 20-25 years, the Navy invested in a dedicated fleet of Avenger-class MCM ships (most are permanently forward deployed in Japan and Bahrain), a dedicated fleet of MH-53E Sea Dragon minehunting helicopters, and the development and training of highly-specialized units of divers, explosive ordnance technicians, and marine mammals.

This force and its specialized equipment set were optimized for the less dangerous immediate post-Cold War era, a time which is rapidly receding into history as we witness the return of great power competition as detailed in the National Defense Strategy (NDS). Naval operations are undergoing a fundamental change today due in large part to a renewed emphasis on sea control via distributed maritime operations. These distributed operating concepts will require new force constructs.

A Modular MCM Force Construct

As CNO Admiral John Richardson’s Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority emphasizes, the Navy must “reexamine our approaches in every aspect of our operations.” The MCM force must provide a more lethal and widely distributed capability rather than the concentrated specialization that is the status quo. This has long been an enduring goal of the Navy’s MCM forces, but this bold vision outstripped the technological maturity of the MCM systems then under development to fully execute that goal. Today however, the gap between technology and vision is rapidly narrowing due primarily to the broad application of the concept of modularity across the entire MCM force.

Modularity has become much more than just a key performance feature of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and its dedicated MCM mission package. Modularity in today’s Navy transcends LCS by bringing the Fleet the operational benefit of deploying the systems and capabilities that comprise the “full up” MCM mission package. Discrete MCM capabilities can be individually distributed across vessels of opportunity for unique missions and operational scenarios. This modularity will be a critical enabler in helping speed the transformation of Navy MCM into a highly distributed and versatile mission force. This will increase operational unpredictability, which is a key attribute that the NDS is seeking to inject in all military forces going forward.

Central to this transformation is the implementation of an adaptive modular force design for MCM. Under this concept, the Navy or fleet commanders can tailor MCM capabilities to specific regions or numbered fleets based on specific threats or evolving military issues. Embedded in the approach is the idea of forward deploying and distributing MCM capabilities across a wider variety of naval platforms or sites ashore. Borrowing from the operational playbook long used by the Navy’s amphibious ships, the modular MCM force construct frees MCM capabilities from being strictly tied to specific ship types and breaks the one-size-fits-all concept of operational MCM employment.

Using the modular force model, an MCM aviation detachment could be deployed with an Amphibious Ready Group, for example, while a DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyer deploys with an unmanned minehunting system like Knifefish. The net operational benefit of this concept change is to both increase the overall number of MCM systems in the Fleet at any one time and also ensures MCM systems are distributed across a wider variety and types of naval platforms.

Obviously, serious issues regarding training, personnel assignments, and shipboard maintenance of this new modular MCM force model will have to be assiduously addressed in coming years. Critical questions such as what is the right mix of onboard ship crew support for MCM versus a cadre of EOD that might just deploy to execute a single mission will have to be rigorously verified through at-sea testing and amended as necessary. Other logistical issues include the level of onboard maintenance required to fully support MCM equipment and the types of additional training certifications required for the ship’s crew to capably operate MCM systems. The implementation and sustainment of a robust training, experimentation, and exercise program for MCM will help to resolve many issues and reveal novel solutions to questions that arise as the modular MCM force concept becomes an integral part of the Navy.

Modular Tools and Systems

The Navy plans for the LCS with its embarked MCM mission package to replace the entire Avenger-class of dedicated MCM ships along with the service’s inventory of mine warfare helicopters. Both of these platforms and their associated systems and spare parts inventories are rapidly aging and their overall operational effectiveness is declining. The Navy is investing additional funding in these ships and helicopters beginning in the FY 2018 budget to ensure these legacy MCM assets remain fully capable until replaced by LCS.

The LCS MCM mission package brings a full complement of new MCM capabilities to sea ranging from detection to neutralization, representing a true paradigm shift in MCM operations. Making much greater operational use of unmanned air, surface, subsurface systems, and helicopters equipped with a new suite of MCM equipment, deployed naval forces can more effectively conduct MCM missions without having to sail ships and sailors directly into the dangerous waters of a minefield to prosecute the mission. The more lethal modular MCM force features the LCS MCM mission package combined with the unmatched expertise of the service’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Units and Expeditionary MCM (ExMCM) Companies. Together this integrated force will be the Navy’s “full-up round” for prosecuting MCM in the years ahead. Current plans call for the Navy to procure 24 MCM mission packages in total and 8 ExMCM Companies.

The initial fielding of new MCM capabilities to the fleet and the latest test successes from emerging developmental systems offer a glimpse into the MCM vision that will emerge into full operational reality over the next decade. Already the Navy’s Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants (PEO USC) has delivered the Initial Operational Capability increments of new aviation-based MCM capabilities. This list includes the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS); the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS); and the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) system. All of these systems bring a significant leap in MCM capability.

ALMDS and AMNS underwent a multi-phase Operational Assessment (OA) as prescribed by the Navy’s Operational Test and Evaluation Force in 2014. After successfully passing these initial test assessments, ALMDS and AMNS also completed the more formal TECHEVAL phase in 2015. In TECHEVAL the airborne MCM systems were operated by LCS sailors and aviators. ALMDS successfully executed all of its missions, and the Fleet was able to plan, execute, and evaluate the full ALMDS mission sequence while conducting operations on board USS Independence (LCS 2). AMNS also performed well and exceeded the test requirement for mission success. COBRA completed land-based operational testing and is trending to be operationally effective and suitable based on current data analysis. All three of these systems represent the first wave of new MCM capabilities designed to enhance fleet MCM operations and are well-suited to implement the Modular MCM force concept across the Navy.

A new generation of Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) are now in the advanced development and testing phases. Initial test assessments are very promising, and these systems will bring more capability and additional mission flexibility to future Modular MCM operations. Some of the key efforts in this advanced development area are the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS), the MCM USV towing the AN/AQS-20 sonar, and the Knifefish UUV.

UISS consists of the MCM USV towing the Mk 104 sweep system and magnetic cable. The MCM USV emerged following the Navy’s decision to cancel the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle. The MCM USV’s modular payload bay will enable the system to use other payloads as required as future threats and tactics change. Ocean testing of the UISS has already exceeded 600 hours, and the system is on track and on schedule. The MCM USV will also be integrated with the AN/AQS-20C sonar, enabling the detection of bottom, close-tethered, and volume mines. It represents the innovative adaptation of two existing programs to create a completely new MCM capability and is an example of the power of modularity.

Knifefish provides the Navy a new capability to hunt for bottom, volume, and buried mines in ocean waters that are highly cluttered. The system consists of two UUVs equipped with Low Frequency Broadband (LFBB) sonars. The Knifefish minehunting capability is based on the LFBB sonar technology developed by the Office of Naval Research/Naval Research Laboratory to detect and identify very challenging buried mines. LFBB exploits mine signatures to detect and classify mines with significantly lower false alarm rates than traditional minehunting systems using standard acoustic imagery methods. 

To meet urgent Fleet requirements new MCM capabilities are already deployed at sea today. Responding to 5th Fleet operational needs in the Arabian Sea, PEO USC catalyzed the development and deployment of four unmanned minehunting units (MHUs). An MHU consists of an unmanned version of the Navy’s standard 11-meter Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB), integrated with the AN/AQS-24B mine sonar. The MHUs have been employed from a number of different platform types including the USS Ponce, USNS Catawba, RFA Cardigan Bay, RFA Diligence, a U.S. Army Landing Craft Utility, from ashore, and most recently, the new expeditionary mobile base USS Lewis B. Puller. The MHU effort accelerated the fielding of emerging MCM systems to the fleet. The operational experience gained and lessons learned from employing the MHUs from a variety of platforms is proving invaluable in reducing the developmental risk across other emerging MCM systems like UISS and the MCM USV with minehunting.

Conclusion

In a mission area where an overall lack of capacity has long been as much of a hurdle as capability, the mission flexibility offered by modular force packages – whether legacy systems, the latest in unmanned technology, or a combination of both – is a sound developmental choice. As the National Defense Strategy clearly states, “We cannot expect success fighting tomorrow’s conflicts with yesterday’s weapons or equipment.” Across the MCM kill chain and throughout the entire water column, commanders must have the ability to pick and choose the specific mix of MCM capabilities best suited to the immediate mission. After years of development and rigorous testing, the operational advances promised by LCS and the MCM mission package are becoming a reality. But the rest of the Navy will be better served by embracing a modular mentality that allows for the full range of available MCM capabilities to be employed in far more varied ways and from a broad array of different platforms and warships. The era of the modular MCM force is just beginning.

Captain Hans Lynch is the Mine Warfare Branch Head at OPNAV N952. Dr. Sam Taylor is Mine Warfare Senior Leader, Program Executive Office, Unmanned and Small Combatants (PEO USC).

Featured Image: ARABIAN GULF (May 2, 2015) Sailors assigned to Commander, Task Group (CTG) 56.1 unload an underwater unmanned vehicle from a rigid-hull inflatable boat during mine countermeasures training operations aboard the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15). CTG 56.1 conducts mine countermeasures, explosive ordnance disposal, salvage-diving, and force protection operations throughout the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joshua Bryce Bruns/Released)

False Assumptions May Lead to Counterproductive U.S. Policy in the South China Sea

By Mark J. Valencia

In his piece, Mr. Pham “lays out recommended ways and means that Washington can regain and maintain the strategic initiative in the Indo-Pacific.” However many of his recommendations are based on false assumptions and if implemented are likely to be ineffective and counterproductive.

Mr. Pham fears that “years of American acquiescence and accommodation may have eroded the international rule of law and global norms; diminished the regional trust and confidence in U.S. preeminence, presence, and constancy; weakened some of the U.S. regional alliances and partnerships; undermined Washington’s traditional role as the guarantor of the global economy and provider of regional security, stability, and leadership; and perhaps even emboldened Beijing to expand its global power and influence and accelerate the pace of its deliberate march toward regional preeminence and ultimately global preeminence.” But the rapid decline of U.S. soft power in the region is not due as much to “American acquiescence and accommodation” to China as it is to American political arrogance, cultural chauvinism, and a general lack of respect for its allies and ‘friends’ in the region  and their peoples. Its hypocrisy, interference in domestic politics, and support of brutal dictators did not help. It is now beginning to experience the inevitable blowback from this attitude and behavior and its reign as regional hegemon may be coming to an end. It may well eventually be replaced by China in the region, but for Mr. Pham to assert that China will attain “global preeminence” is premature at best. Indeed, if China does not learn from the American experience, it may well repeat its mistakes and suffer a similar fate.

Mr. Pham asserts that “Washington cannot back down now in the SCS. To do so would further embolden Beijing to expand and accelerate its desperate campaign to control the disputed and contested strategic waterway through which trillions of dollars of global trade flows each year…”  He assumes first that China can ‘control’ the South China Sea and two that such ‘control’ would threaten commercial freedom of navigation. But as Ralph Cossa, President of Pacific Forum CSIS, says, there is little to worry about, at least for the U.S. :“The South China Sea is not and will not be a Chinese lake and the Chinese, even with artificial islands, cannot dominate the sea or keep the U.S. Navy out of it.”  According to retired Admiral and former Director of U.S. National Intelligence Dennis Blair, “The Spratlys are 900 miles away from China for God’s sake. Those things have no ability to defend themselves in any sort of military sense. The Philippines and the Vietnamese could put them out of action, much less us.” More to the point, retired Admiral Michael McDevitt of the center for Naval Analyses asks skeptically, “What vital U.S. interest has been compromised? Shipping continues uninterrupted, the U.S. continues to ignore… their requirement for prior approval, our MDT with Manila remains in force…”

Regarding freedom of navigation, Mr. Pham and I have debated this before. I will only reiterate here that the two countries – one a ratifier of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – which elaborates the concept – and one not – differ on what activities are and are not encompassed by the term. China has not threatened commercial freedom of navigation nor is it likely to do so in peacetime. But the U.S. and Mr. Pham cleverly conflate the freedom of commercial navigation with the freedom to conduct provocative intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) probes and then argues that when China challenges these probes it is violating “freedom of navigation.” Mr. Pham ignores the problem that because the Convention was a “package deal,” non-ratifiers like the U.S. cannot credibly or legitimately  pick and choose which provisions they wish to abide by, deem them customary law, and unilaterally interpret and enforce them to their benefit. This is especially so regarding the EEZ regime which UNCLOS introduces as sui generis, and which –contrary to U.S. military advice given to its naval officers – does have some restrictions on “freedom of navigation.” They include the duty to pay “due regard” to the rights of the coastal state including its marine scientific research consent and environmental protection regimes protecting as well as its national security. Moreover, China and the U.S. disagree on the meaning of key terms in UNCLOS relevant to the freedom of navigation and which are not defined in the Convention. Besides “due regard” these terms include  “other internationally lawful uses of the sea”, “abuse of rights”, “peaceful use/purpose”, and “marine scientific research.” The point is that the UNCLOS “rules” regarding freedom of navigation are not “agreed.” 

Another of Mr. Pham’s major assumptions is that “Washington has a moral and global obligation of leadership to further encourage and challenge China to become a more responsible global stakeholder…” The U.S. is no longer the world’s moral leader – if it ever was – certainly not from the perspective of China and much of Asia – if not the world. Moreover Mr. Pham’s statement reflects the cultural arrogance that has drawn the U.S. into endless wars—and should be disregarded on that basis alone.

These false assumptions are accompanied by several misleading statements. For example Mr. Pham alleges that China broke  “a 2002 agreement with the ASEAN not to change any geographic features in the SCS”,  and “…the 2015 agreement between Xi Jinping and Barack Obama to not militarize these Chinese-occupied features.”

First, the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) does not contain such language and Mr. Pham is apparently interpreting its language for his own purposes. His interpretation is not shared by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Taiwan. All have altered the features they occupy to some degree since the agreement on the DOC. Second, according to China, President Xi Jinping agreed to no such thing. This statement repeats a biased interpretation of China’s President Xi Jinping statement regarding the “militarization” of the features. The original quote in Chinese was translated into English as “Relevant construction activities that China are (sic) undertaking in the island of South (sic)–Nansha (Spratly) Islands do not target or impact any country, and China does not intend [emphasis added] to pursue militarization.” That is considerably more ambiguous than Mr. Pham’s interpretation. Chinese spokespersons have since implied that if the U.S. continues its ISR probes, exercises, and Freedom of Navigation Operations challenging China’s claims there, China will prepare to defend itself. Given that the U.S. has continued these missions, it should come as no surprise that China has responded as it said it would.

Based on false assumptions, Mr. Pham essentially recommends U.S. military confrontation of China in the South China Sea. Such confrontation could lead to war—on behalf of others’ disputed claims to ownership of tiny features and resources there. That would not be in the core national security interest of the U.S.

Mark J. Valencia is an Adjunct Senior Scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies.

Featured Image: Vietnam’s flag flies over the fortified Da Tay Islands in the Spratlys Archipelago. (Reuters)

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.

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