Natalie Sambhi, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, brings us our first monthly ASPI partnership podcast, Sea Control: Asia-Pacific. This week, she discusses Australian submarine choices and strategy with ASPI members Rosslyn Turner and Dr.Mark Thompson.
Robots fascinate humans. They abound in movies: Star Wars, the Terminator, the Matrix. They are a foil for the human condition. In rosy predictions they are like Star Trek’s Data, “perfect” in strength and intellect yet void of emotion. In dystopian futures, killer robots are poetic justice. Created by humanity, robots attempt to annihilate their creators. If told killer robots exist in the U.S. arsenal, most Americans would probably think of “drones.” The name sounds robotic; it implies automaton behavior. Drones lack an onboard crew, and just like robots, drones fascinate Americans. In one important way, however, drones are not robots: they are flown by humans; they are just flown by remote control, but this creates a problem all of its own.
The Armed Forces are not even sure how to deal with drone pilots. The pilots play a pivotal role in combat operations. They make life or death decisions. They press the button to fire missiles. They probably engage in more “lethal actions” than other air units at present. Nevertheless, most fellow service members and the public at large do not think drone pilots hold “combat” jobs. Our system cannot square the responsibilities these service members have with the lack of surrounding danger.
The presence of danger has always been a defining characteristic of war and particularly in the way civilians see the armed forces. While Americans generally no longer glorify the taking of spoils, we do glorify success in the face of adversity and particularly danger. American society regularly “thanks” service members with things like recognition at sporting events and military discounts. These types of recognition purposely avoid mention of the policies those being thanked implement: “Support the Troops, whether you support the war or not.” But that approach only works if service members are seen to represent honorable values like service and sacrifice. Take away the danger and something of those values seems to disappear too.
Of course, some soldiers have always been relatively safe, performing jobs in the rear areas. Most civilians do not see past the uniform, but service members know who is actually at the front (though ironically the insurgencies of the past 40 years have eroded the difference). For those actually pulling the trigger, danger was always at least reciprocal if not near. While an artilleryman might not have been within rifle range of the enemy, he was in range of the enemy’s artillery. Even ballistic missile crews in the United States were held at risk by their Soviet counterparts during the Cold War.
Drone pilots seem different because there is no reciprocity, but even that does not quite make drone pilots unique. The U.S. government has long looked to reduce danger to service members. Drones are only the latest idea. As the old Army saying goes “Why send a man if you can send a bullet?” The Navy has fully embraced this idea. The ships that launch manned aircraft and Tomahawk cruise missiles (a true killer robot) from the Mediterranean are in no more danger today than if they were training off the coast of California or Virginia. The closest most shipboard sailors have come to fighting in the last 10 years is pressing a button and then rushing to the TV in hopes that CNN will cover the resulting explosions. The Navy still uses the Iranian mine-laying operations in the late 1980s to justify for “imminent danger” pay for crews. If the Navy has not faced the same challenges as the drone community it is principally because distance from American shores obscures what is going on. A similar lack of reciprocity exists for most air and even some ground forces, both masked by distance. Indeed, this lack of reciprocity in many aspects of warfare is inherent to the asymmetric wars in which the United States has engaged.
Wars of the future may ameliorate this problem in some situations but will likely exacerbate in most. As the United States again faces the potential of great power conflict, the likelihood it will face an adversary with advanced air, land, and sear forces greatly increases. Nonetheless, a key lesson of the past decades has been that those who fight the United States on its own terms lose. This situation is likely to remain unchanged for several decades. Thus even great power competitors will seek to field forces that challenge American forces asymmetrically which made lead to situations lacking reciprocity even as the United States continues to develop technology to further protect its service members from danger.
Drones illuminate a problem which has already existed and will only grow in the future: In a society that professes not to value military spoils, how does the relationship with the armed forces change as service members become increasingly removed from danger?
Long-range weapons like artillery, naval gunfire, or close air support in a combined arms environment may suggest an answer. The Marine Corps has best developed this idea. Every Marine who is not primarily a rifleman understands his or her purpose is to support rifleman. For the naval gunnery liaison officer, his or her job directing the shore bombardment in support of forces ashore becomes more important because that officer operates from the relative safety of the ship but his or her actions mean life or death for forces ashore. At their best, these units draw their identity from the support and protection they provide to those in the greatest danger, and those in danger would never deny the importance of that support when well executed.
Without a doubt, danger will never disappear, nor should we reduce efforts to lessen it, but we must begin to think about a how the armed forces will relate to society as fewer service members go in harm’s way. While drones may not actually be robots, in one at least one way their arrival seems to have played a similar role: Drones have highlighted an all too human problem about how people relate to war.
Erik Sand is a Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy and a graduate of Harvard University. His opinions are his own and do not represent the views of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense.
In the last two weeks, there have been a number of articles circulating (including here, here, here and here) that Indonesia has formally recognised a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.
This discussion has originated from statements (see here, and here for example) attributed to Indonesian Navy Commodore Fahru Zaini, an assistant to the first deputy of the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs (Menkopolhukam):
China has claimed Natuna waters as their territorial waters. This arbitrary claim is related to the dispute over Spratly and Paracel Islands between China and the Philippines. This dispute will have a large impact on the security of Natuna waters.
Commodore Zaini is also quoted as saying ‘…we have come to Natuna to see firsthand the strategic position of the TNI, especially in its ability, strength and its deployment of troops, just in case anything should happen in this region’.
This might give the overall impression that Indonesia’s defence modernisation and deployment plans are driven by China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea, and that now Jakarta has officially staked out its policy to challenge Beijing.
This impression is false for several reasons.
First, officially, there’s no maritime ‘dispute’ between Indonesia and China. Following the statement by Commodore Zaini, Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Michael Tene said that ‘Indonesia has no maritime border with China’ and that Indonesia isn’t a claimant state to the South China Sea dispute. Indeed, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa clarified further on March 19,
We have to be absolutely clear about this…There are three seemingly related but separate issues. Firstly, there is no territorial dispute between Indonesia and China, especially about the Natunas. In fact, we are cooperating with China in possibly bringing about foreign direct investment plans in the Natunas. Second, we are not a claimant state in the South China Sea. Third, on the nine-dash line, it is true that we do not accept that. This is why we have asked for a formal explanation from China regarding their claims’ legal basis and background.
This policy is of course not new. Jakarta lodged a complaint with the UN in 2010 regarding the nine-dash line. In fact, Indonesia has consistently argued for the importance of the Natunas and how it should handle the South China Sea since the mid-1990s. I’ve described Jakarta’s key interests in the Natunas elsewhere.
Daniel Novotny’s book also has a long list of quotations from various Indonesian policymakers since the 1990s that basically echoed Commodore Zaini’s sentiments: Indonesia is concerned that the Natunas and its EEZs could be endangered by China’s nine-dash line, but it will never officially admit a dispute with China because that would give credence to Beijing’s claims. Former Foreign Minister Ali Alatas perhaps said it best, ‘the repetition of an untruth will eventually make it appear as truth’.
We can debate the merits of this position, but ultimately, there’s no significant policy shift on the matter. I would add a caveat however that the status quo between China and Indonesia over the Natunas might remain until the day Beijing publicly challenges Indonesia’s rights to explore the natural resources within the Natunas and its EEZs.
Second, on the military build-up, the Natunas area has been a central feature in Indonesia’s external defence thinking since the 1990s. The largest ever tri-service military exercise under Suharto’s tenure in 1996 was based on a scenario in the Natuna islands. This has been the pattern for subsequent exercises since; though there’s an additional ‘Ambalat component’ to it recently.
The statements that the TNI leadership has been making lately about ‘flashpoint defense’ and how its latest military assets would be deployed in the Natunas should be taken with a grain of salt.
For one thing, the ‘flashpoint defense’ (and the role of the Natunas in it) and the military modernisation plans have been on the books since the mid-2000s and publicly described in 2010.
For another, the procurement of advanced platforms like the Sukhois and Leopard MBTs and others is part of the Minimum Essential Force (MEF) concept that has been around since mid-2000s. The MEF was designed less for a China threat and more for an organisational and technological revamp and to meet existing operational requirements. The urgency becomes salient when we consider that the TNI lost numerous men due to accidents and platform decay in the past decade.
Indonesia isn’t building up its military power against a resurgent China, but the current political climate does provide the TNI leadership with the opportunity to further push for their pre-existing plans and to deflect criticisms from civil society activists arguing against expensive weaponry.
Finally, we can speculate whether Commodore Zaini was speaking for the Indonesian government. The clarification from the Foreign Ministry, however, suggests he wasn’t. Does this mean Commodore Zaini was speaking for the TNI? One of my contacts close with the defence establishment in Jakarta suggests that wasn’t the case either. There haven’t been any significant changes or plans made regarding the Natunas and the South China Sea at TNI headquarters.
We should also consider the fact that the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs isn’t a decision making body like the Ministry of Defense. They coordinate policies, they don’t formally make them.
Why Commodore Zaini made the arguments isn’t clear. What is clear, I think, is: (1) he wasn’t authoritatively tasked with announcing a major policy shift (nor is there actually a policy shift), and (2) he was merely echoing long-held Indonesian policy sentiments.
For these reasons, I think the articles that have suggested an official policy change from Indonesia on the Natuna Islands and South China Sea may have taken things out of their proper context.
Evan A. Laksmana is currently a Fulbright Presidential PhD Scholar in political science with the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He is also a researcher with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Editor’s Note: To allay some confusion, this article is about the end of the Tomahawk program, not the elimination of existing stocks.
Tomahawks are on the chopping block. The most recent Defense budget, announced this month, outlined plans to shrink the number of Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM) for use by U.S. Navy ships and submarines. And the cuts are drastic – $128 Million in Fiscal Year 2015, reducing the number to just 100 next year and zero in 2016. Phasing out weapons systems in favor of new systems capable of meeting current and future threats is a normal course of action. Cutting a highly successful program when there is no replacement on the horizon is shortsighted and threatens to eliminate the Navy’s offshore strike capabilities.
TLAMs have a long and decorated service history. They were first deployed onboard Iowa-Class Battleships, as well as integrated into the Navy’s Vertical Launch System (VLS), installed on Destroyers and Cruisers. They were also installed on some submarines. During the Persian Gulf War, Navy surface combatants struck targets within Kuwait and Iraq throughout the conflict. Superior performance during the Gulf War made TLAM a preferred stand-off weapon throughout the 1990s, and was utilized during Operations Allied Force and Deliberate Force in the former Yugoslavia. In the War on Terror, TLAMs have been used to strike al-Qaeda training camps in Sudan and Afghanistan, as well as during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Most recently, over 120 TLAMs were fired by US and UK assets at targets in Libyan territory in 2011.
TLAMs provide the capability to strike deep into hostile territory, eliminating communications, air defense, and command and control from a safe distance, assuring successful secondary strikes by air and ground forces. Further developments have made TLAMs even more versatile – they can be prepped and ready for launch on short notice, and upgraded models can receive in-flight targeting updates and loiter in-air until ready to strike. TLAMs have been revamped and re-introduced multiple times throughout their history, and the latest block is a mainstay of offensive naval force.
Despite its success, replacement is inevitable. The platform is over 30 years old, and it is only a matter of time before a new system, upgraded with the latest technology and engineered to meet today’s threats, replaces the reliable TLAM. However, the new defense budget is instead stripping the U.S. arsenal of a proven strike capability and leaving it gapped for upwards of ten years.
The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) is a much-needed weapon to replace the aging Harpoon anti-ship missile and maintain superiority in surface warfare and Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD). It has also, for some reason, been mentioned as a replacement for the TLAM. This isn’t a viable replacement. LRASM has a range less than half of that of TLAMs, and isn’t designed for deep strike into hostile territory. Even as a stopgap measure, LRASM isn’t an optimal strike weapon and in any case won’t be operationally ready until 2024. As a result, the U.S. will be without a primary strike weapon for the foreseeable future.
Operating with a tight budget, lawmakers are looking for any way to trim defense spending. Eliminating a weapon that is a proven success and vital for offshore strike demonstrates a complete disregard for warfare requirements and unnecessarily places warfighters in harm’s way, without a vital support weapon.
Tomahawk won’t be around forever; but it’s a vital weapon that has pulled its weight for 30 years. The U.S. already has outdated weapons systems and requires upgrades to keep pace with a rising Chinese military. Cutting more weapons systems and eliminating strike options in the name of fiscal restraint is the definition of shortsighted.
LTJG Brett Davis is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. He also runs the blog ClearedHot and occasionally navigates Twitter. His opinions are his own and do not represent the views of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense.
This April marks the 100th anniversary of one of the strangest episodes in the history of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, the mostly forgotten 1914 occupation of Veracruz.
A relatively minor event during the lengthy and violent Mexican Revolution, it is also overshadowed by another American armed intervention in Mexico, the 1916 “Punitive Expedition” led by General John Pershing in pursuit of Pancho Villa. The Veracruz occupation is remembered, if at all, for the embarrassingly large quantity of medals awarded to its participants, and as one of the numerous “small wars” conducted by the Marine Corps in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The roots for the 1914 occupation of Veracruz started a few years earlier, in the chaos caused by the Mexican Revolution. Porfirio Díaz had ruled Mexico as a dictator since the 1870s (re-elected as President through periodic sham elections), but was finally forced from office in 1911 in the face of an opposition coalition that represented the whole spectrum from liberals to warlords and bandits. His successor, the aristocratic but principled liberal Francisco Madero, was soon overthrown and murdered during a 1913 coup led by General Victoriano Huerta, who proceeded to declare himself President.
The U.S. first began creeping towards possible military intervention in Mexico in 1911, with President Taft instructing the Army to create a “Maneuver Division” for use in potential contingencies south of the border. Madero’s death during the Ten Tragic Days (La Decena Trágica) of February 1913, weeks before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration following his defeat of both Taft and Theodore Roosevelt in the 1912 election, resulted in the deployment of U.S. Navy ships to ports on both the east and west coasts of Mexico to observe the situation and protect American citizens and interests.
A month later, in March 2013, Venustiano Carranza established the “Constitutionalist” opposition to Huerta’s government by bringing together another coalition of liberals, regional leaders, and warlords/bandits. By the next spring, Constitutionalist forces had made their way to the vicinity of Tampico, where there was a substantial American presence (mostly due to Tampico’s central role in the Mexican oil industry). Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo commanded the U.S. Navy forces offshore Tampico.
The direct cause of the U.S. seizure of Veracruz was enabled by the convergence of the U.S. Navy and Constitutionalist army on Tampico. On 9 April 1914, personnel from USS Dolphin were mistakenly and briefly detained by Mexican soldiers (Federales loyal to Huerta) while buying fuel from a warehouse along the river near the front line between the two opposing Mexican armies. Although the Mexican General in command of Huerta’s forces quickly released the American sailors and apologized, Mayo would only be appeased by the Mexicans giving a 21-gun salute to the U.S. flag after it was raised ashore in Tampico; a stipulation that would be unacceptable to any Mexican patriot.
In the following days, tensions were also raised by additional minor insults to U.S. honor, including the arrest of a “mail orderly” from USS Minnesota ashore in Veracruz, and the detention of a courier working for the embassy in Mexico City. In response, on 14 April, President Wilson, whose personal and political distaste for Huerta and his manner of assuming power in Mexico was well known, ordered that the entire Atlantic Fleet immediately proceed from Norfolk to Mexico’s Gulf coast.
By 20 April the stakes had been raised even higher, as the President secretly informed a small group of Congressional leaders that he had been informed by the U.S. consul in Veracruz that a shipment of arms for Huerta’s army was on its way to Veracruz onboard a German cargo ship, Ypiranga. Although Wilson wished to ask for congressional authorization for the use of force against Mexico, he did not wish to publicly disclose his knowledge of the Ypiranga shipment.
Later that night, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels (most historically notorious for outlawing drinking onboard Navy ships) sent a warning order to Rear Admiral Frank F. Fletcher, commander of the ships off Veracruz, to “be prepared on short notice to seize customs house at Vera Cruz. If offered resistance, use all force necessary to seize and hold city and vicinity” The following morning, Fletcher received the order from Daniels to “Seize customs house. Do not permit war supplies to be delivered to Huerta government or any other party.”
This is the first of a three part series on the 1914 invasion and occupation on Veracruz.
Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.
In Episode 29, Sea Control interviews Erik Prince, former CEO of Blackwater. He describes the challenges of African logistics and how his new public venture, Frontier Services Group, will attempt to tackle them. We also discuss the future of private military contractors (PMCs) and the lessons learned from Blackwater.
A wide-ranging interview with Dr Andrew D May, Associate Director of the Pentagon’s storied Office of Net Assessments. Discussion on the role of effective strategy in great power competition, “bounded rationality” and the subjugation of the Welsh.
Jokowi and the Defence Realm
Pivotally positioned, but seldom discussed. ASPI’s Natalie Sambhi offers a look into the potential impact of Joko Widodo’s bid for the Indonesia presidency on the nation’s defense establishment and relations with regional neighbors.
NAVWEEK: LCS Got Game
Impact can stem from shock. Michael Fabey’s glowing endorsement of the LCS created both, not least because of the wide gulf between the capabilities described in the piece, and the LCS ‘s potential as currently understood.
Austin Price is an Army Cadet studying at George Mason University, with a healthy interest in East Asia and an unhealthy appetite for Sichuan Hotpot.