An ASEAN Maritime Alliance?

The year 2014 brought new tensions to the South China Sea, particularly as Chinese authorities sought to establish a series of island-like structures in the midst of the disputed Spratly Islands. Such provocative actions, however, are unlikely to generate sufficient political will among the other countries of the region to establish a Political-Security Community under the auspices of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) by the 2015 deadline. But were this collection of ten countries to pool their resources into a security community or even a security alliance, it would be an impressive force and a potential deterrent to aggression in the South China Sea.

In particular, it is worthwhile noting the relative strength of ASEAN coastal defence forces. Some member states, such as Indonesia, possess respectable ‘blue water’ navies, that is to say, they have larger vessels capable of operating in deep waters and engaging in long-range standing battles. Other ASEAN countries, such as the Philippines, have considerable ‘brown water’ navies,  forces consisting of small patrol boats which can cruise inland waterways and the shallow waters that weave between tight-knit island chains. But the varied nature of the waters disputed in the South China Sea particularly requires the flexibility offered by corvettes.

Generally, corvettes fall between the Royal Canadian Navy’s Halifax-class frigates and Kingston-class coastal defence vessels in size. But there is much debate as to what constitutes a contemporary corvette. For example, the Royal Omani Navy calls its Khareef-class vessels ‘corvettes’ even though the displacement of each vessel in the class is approximately 2,660 tons. Recent advancements in shipbuilding have also allowed the US Navy to introduce new vessels with substantial displacement but with shallower drafts, meaning the new USS Liberty can approach closer to coastlines than the similarly sized but older Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates.

For the purposes of this analysis, only those vessels with a displacement greater than 100 tons but less than 1,700 tons will be considered corvettes. China’s maritime forces, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN),  has a substantial number of vessels in this range deployed to Hong Kong and a network of naval bases off the South China Sea. 12 Jiangdao-class corvettes (1,440 tons) are the workhorses of this maritime presence in the region and China may possibly add 3 more vessels of this class by the end of 2015. Beyond the Jiangdao-class corvettes, PLAN’s southern presence includes six Houjian-class missile boats (520 tons) and approximately 80 other missile boats and gunboats of various classes and ranging in displacement from 200 to 480 tons each. This vastly exceeds the quantity and quality of vessels any individual Southeast Asian country could bring to bear in a conflict. But ASEAN’s combined maritime forces could meet the challenge presented by a limited PLAN offensive.

Brunei in particular has emerged as a promising new maritime actor in the region, even actively participating in the 2014 edition of the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC). The Royal Brunei Navy acquired four specially built Darussalam-class offshore patrol ships (1,625 tonnes) from the German shipbuilder Luerssen-Werft, which replaced Brunei’s previous coastal defence workhorse, the Waspada-class fast attack craft (200 tonnes). The Waspada-class vessels have since been decommissioned and donated to Indonesia to be used for training purposes. The introduction of the Darussalam-class greatly upgrades Brunei’s defence capabilities and it will be of interest for Southeast Asian observers to see how Brunei further pursues the modernization of its forces.

The Republic of Singapore Navy has much in the way of heavier frigates and submarines to defend its unique position by the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s most significant shipping routes. Its corvette-like vessels are also impressive, six Victory-class corvettes (600 tonnes) and 12 Fearless-class offshore patrol ships (500 tonnes), but they are certainly not as new as some of the vessels boasted by Singapore’s neighbours. The Victory-class was acquired in 1990-1991 while the Fearless-class was introduced between 1996 and 1998. Therefore, it will also be of interest to see whether Singapore seeks to obtain any newer vessels which can serve as a bridge in capabilities between the Victory-class corvettes and the heavier Formidable-class frigates.

dsc_5220It is Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia that boast the largest complements of corvettes in the region, however. The Royal Thai Navy’s coastal defence is led by two Tapi-class corvettes (1,200 tons) and two Pattani-class offshore patrol ships (1,460 tons), which are joined by two Ratanakosin-class corvettes (960 tons), three Khamrosin-class corvettes (630 tons), three Hua Hin-class patrol boats (600 tons), six PSMM Mark 5-class patrol boats (300 tons), and 18 smaller patrol boats and fast attack boats of varying capabilities but all rather aged. The Philippines and Indonesia both have vast island chains within their respective territories, requiring corvettes and smaller patrol vessels just as much for counter-trafficking and counter-piracy operations as for countering conventional maritime forces. The Philippine Navy possesses one Pohang-class corvette (1,200 tons), two Rizal-class corvettes (1,250 tons), nine Miguel Malvar-class corvettes (900 tons), and three Emilio Jacinto-class corvettes (700 tons). Indonesia tops out ASEAN’s array of corvettes with three Fatahillah-class corvettes (1,450 tons), 16 Kapitan Patimura-class corvettes (950 tons), and 65 other missile boats and gunboats with a displacement of approximately 100-250 tons.

Yet it is unclear how much of their forces Indonesia or the Philippines would be able to deploy in the midst of a South China Sea conflict. As mentioned previously, many of these vessels have been used practically as inland patrol vessels. There are also some potential weak links in the chain should ASEAN establish some form of formalized maritime alliance. The Royal Malaysian Navy only offers four Laksamana-class corvettes (675 tons) and an array of 16 smaller missile boats and gun boats that could generally only be used to harass Chinese forces. Burma certainly has an impressive force in its own right – consisting of three domestically produced Anawratha-class corvettes (1,100 tons), six Houxin-class missile boats (500 tons), 10 5 Series-class missile boats (500 tons), and 15 Hainan-class gunboats (450 tons), but the military junta has already demonstrated that it will remain aloof from territorial disputes in the South China Sea and generally supports China’s policy toward Southeast Asia.

The Royal Cambodian Navy is in shambles, consisting solely of five outdated Turya-class torpedo boats (250 tons), five Stenka-class patrol boats (250 tons), and a lone Shershen-class fast attack boat (175 tons). But Cambodian authorities would be just as disinclined to engage in defence sharing as their Burmese counterparts. During Cambodia’s 2012 ASEAN chairmanship, Cambodian officials consistently interfered in efforts by other ASEAN member states to reach a common position on the South China Sea’s territorial disputes. Given the understanding on security issues shared between Cambodian and Chinese officials, as well as China’s status as Cambodia’s largest source of foreign investment and aid, it is apparent that Cambodia has relatively no need for the security guarantees ASEAN could provide as a regional counter-balance to China.

Vietnam is the unpredictable factor in the region. The Vietnam People’s Navy has a few corvettes of its own, including a Pauk-class corvette (580 tons), eight Tarantul-class corvettes (540 tons), and 23 patrol ships with displacements ranging from 200 to 375 tons. The Vietnamese government has also ordered two more TT-400TP gunboats (450 tons) from domestic shipbuilders with delivery expected in late 2015 or early 2016. This leaves Vietnam with a force perhaps not as sizable as that of Indonesia or the Philippines but with greater capacity to intervene should China seek to settle territorial disputes with Vietnam by force.

As Malaysia will hold the 2015 Chairmanship of ASEAN, the prospects for a maritime force in support of the bloc’s proposed Political-Security Community will depend to some degree on whether Malaysian officials will be willing to show leadership. If Malaysia looks to acquire new vessels and insists on placing maritime security on the agenda of upcoming ASEAN meetings, some arrangement could be struck by the end of the year. But this will require artful diplomacy, especially in the face of Burmese and Cambodian opposition. With Malaysian officials speaking predominantly about the need for a single market in the region and promoting a conclusion to negotiations regarding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, such a drive for maritime security may not be forthcoming.

Paul Pryce is a Research Analyst at the Atlantic Council of Canada. His research interests are diverse and include maritime security, NATO affairs, and African regional integration.

This article can be found in its original form at the  
NATO Council of Canada and was republished by permission.

A2AD Since Seventy-Three

Wreckage of a Destroyed Israeli Plane (Wikimedia Commons)
Wreckage of a Destroyed Israeli Plane (Wikimedia Commons)

As part of the run-up to #CFAR15 on Thursday, we asked those who received the most votes but are unable to attend to provide some thoughts and updates on their articles to share with our readers, along with the original, most-popular pieces of the past year:

LCDR Mark Munson: This piece was originally published as part of “Air-Sea Battle Week.”  I chose to not write directly about the Air-Sea Battle (ASB) Operational Concept (or China) because I had no particular interest in ASB.  I also was working at OPNAV at the time, and though I had no involvement or even any particular knowledge of ASB, I did not want to give the false impression that I had any insight into the U.S. Navy or Air Force efforts in support of that “Operational Concept.”

Of course since then the Air-Sea Battle office and concept is gone, recently subsumed into the larger Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC). JAM-GC may prove to be more successful than ASB in terms of facilitating the procurement of technologies that counter Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2AD) capabilities. However, since I wrote this article the conventional wisdom regarding the pursuit of A2AD by China has also been challenged.  In the Winter 2015 issue of The Washington Quarterly, M. Taylor Fravel and Christopher Twomey argue that “counter-intervention” is not the cornerstone of Chinese military strategy and that any Chinese emphasis on  fielding A2AD capabilities are driven primarily to equip it  for “a potential conflict over Taiwan.” (Full disclosure: Twomey is a former professor of mine)  In fact, Fravel and Twomey argue that the focus on A2AD may the development of U.S. strategy and future weapons.

Regardless of whether and/or why China is developing the a significant A2AD capability, I think the thesis of my argument below is still sound. The notions behind A2AD or “Counter-Intervention” are not new, as militaries have attempted to develop stand-off weapons that deny maneuver to their enemies on the battlefield since the dawn of warfare. This article could just have easily been written about English and Welsh longbowmen  at Agincourt as the Egyptians in Sinai in 1973.  

 


The threat posed by Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2AD) capabilities is at the core of the the U.S. Navy and Air Force’s Air Sea Battle (ASB) operational concept.  However, A2AD weapons are not new,  in particular playing an important role in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

A2AD and the ASB Concept

The ASB operational concept defines A2AD capabilities as “those which challenge and threaten the ability of U.S. and allied forces to both get to the fight and to fight effectively once there.”  One of the main capabilities that ASB has been established to counteract and mitigate against is the “new generation of cruise, ballistic, air-to-air, and surface-to-air missiles with improved range, accuracy, and lethality” that are increasingly available to states around the world.  Figuring out ways to operate in a world in which missiles are easy to acquire and operate is extremely important to the U.S. military, since A2AD weapons “make U.S. power projection increasingly risky, and in some cases prohibitive,” threatening the very foundation upon which the ability of the U.S. military’s ability to operate at will across the globe rests upon.

Missile Warfare in the Middle East

Using A2AD weapons, particularly surface-to-air missiles (SAM), surface-to-surface missiles (SSM), and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), to conduct a form of asymmetric warfare is not a new idea.   In particular, the use of missiles to counteract an enemy’s superiority in the air or on the ground was very much a part of Soviet doctrine by the 1960s.  To protect against the U.S. air campaign during the Vietnam War, Soviet missiles and personnel were extensively used by North Vietnam.  Perhaps the best example of A2AD in action, however, was the Soviet-enabled missile campaign waged by Egypt against the Israeli military during the 1973 Yom Kippur War (also known as the Ramadan War or October War).

The use of missiles formed an essential part of the plans of Egypt and Syria to win back the territories lost so precipitously during the 1967 Six Day War.  In his book the Arab-Israel Wars, historian and former Israeli President Chaim Herzog noted that:

“the Egyptians had meanwhile studied and absorbed the lessons of the Six Day War: with the Russians, they concluded they could answer the problem of the Israeli Air Force over the battlefield by the creation of a very dense “wall” of missiles along the canal, denser even that that used in North Vietnam.  The problem posed by Israeli armour was to be answered by the creation of a large concentration of anti-tank weapons at every level, from the RPG shoulder-operated missile at platoon level up to the Sagger missiles with a range of some 3000 yards and the BRDM armoured missile-carrying vehicles at battalion and brigade level.”

As part of Operation Caucasus, the Soviet Union “deployed an overstrength division” of air defense forces, with eighteen battalions each composed of SAM batteries, Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA), and teams equipped with Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS).  Although technically identified as instructors, the Soviet troops actually “were dressed in Egyptian uniforms and provided full crewing for the deployed SAM systems.” Using lessons learned in Vietnam, the air defense forces along the Suez Canal were capable of  “relocating frequently and setting up ambushes for Israeli aircraft using multiple mutually supporting batteries.”  Syria also procured Soviet SAM batteries to support their part of the planned surprise attack.  In Herzog’s words, the overwhelming array of SAMs and AAA “would provide an effective umbrella over the planned area of operations along the Suez Canal” and “to a very considerable degree neutralize the effects of Israeli air superiority over the immediate field of battle.”

Destroyed Israeli Tank in the Sinai (Wikimedia Commons)
Destroyed Israeli Tank in the Sinai (Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Egyptians pursued a similar effort in their efforts to combat Israel’s ground forces.  Per Herzog, Israel’s “armoured philosophy” emphasizing “massive, rapidly deployed, armoured counterattack” would be faced by an Egyptian Army that had crossed the Suez Canal “equipped to the saturation point in anti-tank weapons and missiles in order to wear down the Israeli armour.” The Arab leaders were not just concerned with achieving missile dominance inside the expected battlefield along the canal, however, but also that Eyptian and Syrian aircraft could not match their Israeli counterparts “outside the range of missile surface-to-air defence systems.”  Therefore, the Soviets also provided surface-to-surface FROG and SCUD missiles capable of directly striking at Israel itself, with the hope that they could deter against Israel’s ability to attack their own capitals.

Egypt and Syria’s employment of A2AD weapons had a significant tactical impact on the war.  Estimates of the losses of Israeli aircraft vary.  Herzog stated that 102 Israeli planes were shot down (50 during the first three days), with half shot down by missiles and the other half shot down by AAA.  According to other articles, “Israeli public claims are that 303 aircraft were lost in combat,” crediting SAMs with shooting down 40 and “between four and 12 to Arab fighters.”  This means that although most Israeli aircraft may have been shot down by AAA, the “missile wall” can be credited with “denying the use of high and medium altitude airspace, driving aircraft down into the envelope of high-density AAA.”

One can argue that the lessons learned from employment of A2AD in 1973 can be overstated (after all, Israel eventually won the war, at great cost).  However, Herzog’s claim that it was “a war of great historic significance” is merited, as it “was the first war in which the various types of missiles – surface-to-surface, surface-to-air, air-to-surface, and sea-to-sea – were used on a major scale,” and that “the entire science of military strategy and technique has had to be re-evaluated in the light of” its lessons.  In particular, the Egyptians in 1973 executed what the Air-Sea Battle concept identifies as an important objective of A2AD, in which “an aggressor can slow deployment of U.S. and allied forces to a theater, prevent coalition operations from desired theater locations, or force friendly forces to operate from disadvantageous longer distances.”

Evolution of Air-Land Battle and the Influence of the 73 War

If the Army’s AirLand Battle doctrine of the 1970/1980s can be seen as an intellectual precursor to Air-Sea Battle in its emphasis on “degradation of rear echelon forces before they could engage allied forces,” then the link between the 1973 Yom Kippur War and Air-Sea Battle is clear.  General William DePuy was the first commander of the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) upon its establishment in 1973.  In particular, “DePuy had taken an intense interest in the reform of tactics and training, in line with tactical lessons drawn from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.”  During the tenure of DePuy’s successor, General Donn Starry, TRADOC formulated AirLand Battle and laid the doctrinal framework for the modernization of the U.S. Army and inter-service, joint operations.

What is the Answer?

How and why Israel won the war in 1973 entails a much longer discussion possible in this particular blog post.  The solution to A2AD that the Navy and Air Force  have proposed through Air-Sea Battle “is to develop networked, integrated forces capable of attack-in-depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat adversary forces.”  The reader can decide whether those are just buzzwords and whether the A2AD threat faced by the Israelis forty years ago was an easier challenge to  overcome than what could be faced by the U.S. military today and in the future  What is clear, however, is that the notion of A2AD is not new, and was very much an important part of Soviet-supported military operations during the Cold War.

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.

Members’ Roundup Part 14

Welcome back to another edition of the Members’ Roundup where we disseminate the works that CIMSEC members have published elsewhere. This week there is a variety of topics covered by our members and will make interesting reading for the weekend.

Continuing the theme of professional debate about the naval profession, CIMSECian Will Beasely adds some observations from history. From the golden age of professions developing to the think tanks and forums of today, Beasely extracts the issues faced by the ‘Young Turks’ of each generation. Whilst the character of the challenges may be different the fundamental logic remains the same. This article, featured on The Bridge, is certainly an interesting reflection from a civilian navalist on the topic. You can access Will’s article here.

Patrick Truffer returns this week with an article assessing whether NATO’s eastward expansion broke a promise made to the Soviet Union at the time of German reunification. Contemporary Russian analysts have echoed this sentiment and President Vladimir Putin has made similar claims in recent speeches. You can read his article at Offiziere.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Singapore mutiny, an event that would be a catalyst for other developments for Asian politics, Singaporean thinking on security, the role of Japan in Asia and nationalist sentiment in Asia. Over at The Diplomat Joseph Hammond explains how this event, costing the lives of 47 British soldiers and civilians to suppress, continues to influence Asia today. You can access his article here.

Earlier this month National Security Advisor Susan Rice unveiled the Obama administration’s National Security Strategy. CIMSECian and Bavevich Fellow at CNAS, Jacob Stokes, provide some initial thoughts on the document. You can access his article here at The National Interest.

Dr Ashton Carter was sworn in as the 25th Secretary of Defense several days ago. CNAS has compiled a report titled ‘Ideas to Action: Suggestions for the 25th Secretary of Defense’ to help the new SECDEF and his team navigate the challenges faced by the Pentagon. Contributors for the report include CIMSECians Jerry Hendrix and Jacob Stokes. You can access the report here.

As many States around the globe continue to modernise their fleets and invest billions in military equipment, Harry Kazianis, asks whether submarines will become obsolete. With advancements in undersea detection technology and the cost of sound-minimisation methods ever increasing, naval planners may have to return to the drawing board and rethink how to plan for undersea warfare. You can access his post here, at The National Interest.

Recent debate of future naval warfare has been dominated by discussion on the role of aircraft carriers (as well as their vulnerabilities). Over at The Diplomat, Himanil Raina, reminds us why it is important to remember the utility of surface warfare combatants.

Dean of the Fletcher School, James Stavridis, returns in this week’s roundup with his assessment of ‘the most dangerous country in the world.’ In Signal, Stavridis explains why the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea is the most dangerous country in the world at the moment. You can access the article here.

Dave Majumdar returns this week with two articles, both featured online at The Daily Beast. The first discusses a scandal involving a former U.S. Air Force intelligence chief. The second article continues the nuclear debate; the Pentagon continues its campaign of modernizing its nuclear arsenal despite President Obama’s goal of reducing U.S. reliance on its nuclear arsenal for security. That was a goal made during the early days of his presidency and unless his views on the matter have changed then ‘someone forgot to tell his Pentagon about it,’ to use Dave’s word. You can access that article here.

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

Toward a Harmonious Pacific through China-led, Confucian-based Maritime Law

What goals should the United States seek in the South China Sea?  Trying to preserve the status quo – hoping that each country be ever content with its historic resources and territory – is simply unrealistic, as demographics alter populations and climate change alters fish stocks, river flows, and even the land under one’s feet, as sea levels rise.  The U.S. feints at regional stability; yet advocating for peace while conducting military exercises with China’s neighbors, and arming those neighbors while proposing détente to their larger Pacific roommate, do nothing to turn down the temperature in an already overheated region.

Is there another way?

Interestingly, in response to China’s most recent provocative (or expansive, “salami-slicing”) efforts in the South China Sea, the affected countries have neither used, nor threatened, retaliatory military force.  Perhaps they saw the lack of international military response to Russia’s actions in the Crimea and realized the futility of might against might, facing such a stronger force as China.  Or perhaps they drew lessons from the international community’s decade-plus-long quagmire in the Middle East.  At any rate, they went, instead, to the law, and to the United Nations, with the Philippines filing a 4,000-page case in March 2014, and Vietnam joining the case in early December.  The case pends.

Chinese law is often seen by the Western world as a punitive weapon, wielded bluntly to reinforce the power of those with authority.  I came face-to-face with this stereotype in 2010, when, aboard a U.S. Coast Guard high-endurance cutter, we hosted two Chinese shipriders from the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (now part of the China Coast Guard), to cooperatively enforce an international moratorium on high-seas driftnet fishing.  The shipriders’ knowledge of Pacific fisheries was extensive, and their insight into local fishing practices highly revealing; yet they were surprised by the professional and non-aggressive way we conducted fisheries boardings.  Excessive force was unnecessary; the rule of law enabled us.

They were not the first shipriders I’ve met who were used to maritime law enforcement being far more aggressive in their home countries. The FLEC shipriders were fascinated to learn that the law not only empowered, but also restrained us: that it protected citizens’ rights, and even the rights of non-citizens.  This is powerful.

Sunset on the South China Sea off Mui Ne village on the south-east coast of Vietnam (Author MikeRussia; Wikimedia Commons)
Sunset on the South China Sea off Mui Ne village on the south-east coast of Vietnam (Author MikeRussia; Wikimedia Commons)

Whence the origins of Chinese law?  The legal tradition in China has grown, over centuries, from two roots: Legalism, which results in the often brutal applications of punishment seen in Western media; and, curiously, Confucian philosophy.  While Legalism posits tough laws and harsh sentences to keep the populace controlled, Confucianism holds that laws should help a community achieve harmony (or “Li”); and that leaders are expected, by virtue of their status, to model the moral behaviors they want their people to emulate.  This Confucian strain in Chinese thought provides an interesting and useful opening for influencing development in a new direction, toward a cooperative and harmonious maritime code of conduct in the Pacific.

How might China be convinced to develop such a code?  After all, they are stronger than their neighbors: why handicap themselves?  Yet economics suggests that selfish or destructive behaviors net a country less long-term economic growth and geopolitical power than mutually beneficial international actions.[1] This is the angle to play, enhanced by emphasizing the inherently Chinese flavor of a Confucian-based legal code.  China has much to benefit by spending less on a military arms race and more on economic development: by cultivating harmonious relationships with their neighbors, they will create a stronger and more willing market for their goods, to keep driving the massive yet near-solitary economic growth engine keeping their political party empowered.

This is, perhaps, an audacious proposal, for it seeks through persuasion and a bit of flattery to encourage China to become a responsible maritime actor, on its own terms, by appealing to its history and pride. The U.S. could say: We can help you develop a comprehensive Pacific maritime legal framework; China-led, Confucian-based, for harmonious interaction with your neighbors and comprehensive regional prosperity.

Overly optimistic?  Not impossible.

It is important here to focus not just on maritime law tactics (how to conduct a law enforcement boarding; how to apply various levels of force) but on strategy: how to build a framework for long-term, harmonious international maritime interaction.  This could start at the military-to-military level, through engagements between China Coast Guard and U.S. Coast Guard counterparts.  China Coast Guard leaders would be invited to observe, not only tactical-level boardings and operational-level maritime law enforcement planning; but also the legal aspects of preparing case packages, reviewing case law, and arguing cases in U.S. court.  Discussions would cover both strengths and shortfalls of the existing U.S. and international maritime legal systems, expanding to cover differences between the type of maritime law enforcement the U.S. Coast Guard conducts, and the similar-but-different, non-law enforcement Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO) conducted by both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard to enforce UN resolutions.  What elements of each should be integrated into a Pacific maritime “code of conduct”?

(Aug. 18, 2007) SHANGHAI, China - The crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell trains with the China Coast Guard during the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Jonathan R. Cilley)
(Aug. 18, 2007) SHANGHAI, China – The crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell trains with the China Coast Guard as part of the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Jonathan R. Cilley)

One of the benefits of a Confucian-based code of conduct for South China Sea ship interactions would be to assume all parties’ good intentions, rather than their ill-will.  In a specific maritime rulebook supporting this code, potentially aggressive actions would be presumed, unless meeting certain hostile tripwires, to be honest mistakes, prompting mutual retreat.  Furthermore, in order to discourage intentional “gray area” behavior, the tripwires would specifically reflect hostile intent – regardless of whether a military or civilian actor cross them.

Additionally, again based on Confucian philosophy, the greater the power, the more the responsibility to model ideal behavior.  Thus, as the leading power in the region, the onus is on China to set the most moral and harmonious example in its maritime interactions.

This code of conduct would both complement, and expand upon, the existing COLREGS: for where the COLREGS guide navigational interactions, the expanded code of conduct would also cover “exploratory interactions” – when ships are not simply navigating from one port to another, but exploring, patrolling, conducting research, or otherwise operating intentionally but non-navigationally.

Concurrent U.S. Defense-State strategic regional engagement is also recommended, in which reductions in maritime tensions are coupled with increased diplomatic development, where the U.S. encourages countries with competing resource claims to develop bilateral or multilateral agreements for resource sharing and protection.  The goal is to convince Pacific nations that sharing the pie doesn’t mean going hungry: instead, cooperation can reduce each country’s individual share of defense and production, while promoting labor specialization and national pride.[2]  As a bonus for regional stability, the more countries invested cooperatively in an area, the greater their individual and collective desire to avoid any sort of conflict that might harm those resources, or take their production off-line.

Both the U.S. combatant commander and his country team counterparts should cooperatively emphasize Chinese-influenced, Confucian-based legal bases throughout the spectrum of their “defense, diplomacy, and development” engagements, as an overarching strategic theme.  This is one way the U.S. can face China down in their game of “Go”:[3] from every angle, at every opportunity, seeds of a harmonious rule of law will be planted.  While some efforts will be stymied or stifled, some seeds will grow, and ideally, this concept of law will begin to permeate Chinese society deeply enough that it cannot quickly be uprooted.  And why should the Chinese tear it out?  It will underpin their economic growth, protect their military from engagement, and cement their moral status as a 21st-century great power.

Engagement surrounding the rule of law is a long-range play.  The goal is not only a more peaceful, China-influenced, legal framework for the Pacific; but also to sow seeds of change for democratic evolution within China itself.  Raising awareness within Chinese leadership that laws are not just sticks with which to beat opponents, but beacons of moral empowerment; that laws should guide leaders to act justly; that the rule of law can inspire a peaceful, communal patriotism; and that people at all levels of society can trust the law to protect them – these powerful democratic concepts can, over time, drive significant positive change within Chinese society: change that traditional military might not and political posturing never could achieve.

Facilitating a China-led, Confucian based, cooperative maritime-based rule of law could eventually be expanded to other contentious and competitive domains, including space, cyberspace, and even intellectual property – all areas that could benefit from an improved, shared, legal basis. And perhaps, success in this region of the world could be expanded to locally-led and -derived, rule-of-law-based engagements in other combative areas.  After having seen such conflict and destruction on its many shores, we could at last look forward to a new era in which the Pacific is finally peaceful enough to be worthy of its name.


Lt. Heather Bacon-Shone serves in the United States Coast Guard, and has operational afloat experience throughout the Pacific.  The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the U.S. Coast Guard or Department of Defense.

[1] In economic terms, rent-seeking versus profit-seeking.

[2] In other words, a non-zero-sum game.

[3] “To update an old saying, ‘Russians play chess, Chinese play “go,” and Americans play poker.”  In Reveron, Derek S. and James L. Cook.  “Developing Strategists: Translating National Strategy into Theater Strategy,” Joint Force Quarterly, Issue 55, 4th Quarter 2009, p. 21.

#CFAR15 Line-Up Announced

Our readers have spoken, and through nominations and a round of voting selected the following works for their authors to speak at CIMSEC’s Forum for Authors and Readers (CFAR) on Thursday, February 26th. I have the pleasure to moderate a discussion between these six speakers and the audience on their recent works:

Congrats to those selected! To join us, RSVP here. Full details below:

Location: Steptoe & Johnson, LLP, 1330 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC. Nearest Metro: Dupont Circle. 

Schedule (Thursday, Feb 26th):
– 5:00 – 5:30 Registration with light refreshments
– 5:30 – 6:00 Keynote with LCDR BJ Armstrong and Q+A
– 6:00 – 7:30 CIMSEC contributor presentations and engagement sessions.

Thanks to USNI and Steptoe & Johnson for their generous support in making this event possible.

LCS Versus the Danish Strawman

nils juel 2Many critics have assailed the Littoral Combatant Ship (LCS) program for its high cost in comparison with foreign, supposedly better armed and equipped equivalents. The Danish Iver Huitfeldt and Absalon class frigates are often cited as examples of cheaper, more capable small combatants in comparison with LCS. These claims are not well researched and are based on isolated points of data rather than any systemic analysis. Other nations may be able to build relatively cheap warships, but hidden factors not discussed by critics, rather than U.S. shipbuilding and general acquisition deficiencies make this possible. The Danish Navy, in conjunction with corporate giant A.P. Moeller have produced an outstanding series of warships, but a direct comparison between them with the LCS is one of apples verses oranges. It’s time to stop using this inaccurate strawman argument against LCS.

The direct comparison of the Danish frigates to LCS is highly misleading due to significant differences in Danish shipbuilding practice and financial accounting. The Danish “StanFlex” system of “plug and play” weapons, sensors and equipment (including cranes!) officially separates these components from the advertised cost of the ship. A 2006 RAND report on the rise in warship costs specifically identified such systems as the principal drivers of warship cost inflation. The Danish concept of separating these more costly systems from their hull gives the appearance of a much less expensive warship. The ships were often accepted by the Danish Navy in an incomplete condition. The Danish Nils Juel, for example, was delivered in 2014 with 76mm guns scavenged from decommissioned ships. Danish figures suggest that the Iver Huitfeldt program used $209 million in reused equipment from scrapped vessels. Reuse, however, could not meet all system requirements. The planned 127mm (5 inch) gun system was deemed too expensive at $50 million a copy. The ship’s close-in weapon system mount was actually a dummy, wooden weapon due to a lack of certification. While equipped with a MK 41 vertical launch missile system (VLS), the ship deployed to the fall 2014 U.S. Bold Alligator exercise without the system certified for use or weapons purchased for eventual outfitting. That same reporting indicated that the ship was delivered with its damage control system incomplete and lacking a secondary steering control center. Much of the ship is built to merchant ship standards which are not as robust as those traditionally provided to warships. In addition, the Danish ship was forced to take on nearly 20 extra crew members when the lean 100 person complement was found insufficient for operational needs.

The Absalon class is more akin to a heavily armed, limited load amphibious ship rather than a surface combatant. It combines a number of warfare and expeditionary capabilities on a single hull, but excels at none of them. It is also significantly slower (at 24 knots maximum speed) than most other surface combatants. Both Absalon and her sister Esbern Snare were also delivered without their full installation of weapons and sensors. In the case of Absalon, this process took over three years. The Danish Navy has been open in regards to these conditions. U.S. advocates of adopting the Absalon or Iver Huitfeldt classes almost always overlook them.

The LCS, by contrast is delivered with significant systems such as its 57mm gun and point defense missile system incorporated into the overall cost. Scavenging of weapons from previous U.S. ships is extremely difficult due to a constant process of upgrades over time. Weapon systems, like ships also have service lives and U.S. ships being decommissioned often have equally aged weapons and supporting electrical, hydraulic and mechanical systems that make a re-installation not cost effective. Unlike the Absalon class which is not equipped to master any one warfare area in any of its configurations, the LCS can be exclusively equipped to master one such discipline. It is purposely designed to operate in tailored flotillas designed to mitigate the risks incurred by one ship like Absalon. Critics often fail to note that both Iver Huitfeldt and Absalon are nearly twice the size of LCS.  Neither has the speed requirements that drove initial LCS design considerations. The size difference alone may explain the Danish ships’ much longer endurance. These differences in Danish and U.S. practices make comparisons difficult at best.

Finally, the Danish Navy contracted the building of both the Iver Huitfeldt and Absalon classes to a single firm, the A.P. Moeller Corporation. This multinational giant derives the vast bulk of its earnings from the more stable commercial market and its warship business is not dependent on government orders, which causes instability and cost overruns in its production process. By contrast, U.S. LCS shipbuilders Lockheed Martin and Austal serve government interests much more than private ones and are more dependent on government contracts to maintain stability in their operations. The 2006 RAND report also identified this process of divided warship construction as another factor in the increased cost of surface combatants.

The LCS program has been beset with a number of technological and systemic problems since its inception that have slowed the program’s progress and likely contributed to some cost overruns. On the surface, the Iver Huitfeldt and Absalon class frigates would appear to be cost effective alternatives to the LCS. Deeper investigation, however, reveals how the Danes achieved these substantially lower figures by separating higher cost equipment from that of the platform, scavenging weapons from decommissioned ships, accepting incomplete warships for service, and purchasing these vessels from a single, robust commercial shipbuilder not dependent on or affected by unstable government ship acquisition processes. In summary, these classes meet Denmark’s needs, but are an unsuitable substitute for U.S. Navy small combatants. LCS critics, however, should not use the Danish ships as strawman LCS substitutes. It is a most unequal comparison.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD student in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. 

Stumbling on Peace: The exposition of strategic misstep

This article is part of a series hosted by The Strategy Bridge and CIMSEC, entitled #Shakespeare and Strategy. See all of the entries at the Asides blog of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Thanks to the Young Professionals Consortium for setting up the series.

Siward confronts GruachDavid Greig’s Dunsinane, while set in the centuries-ago land of Scotland, offers a modern perspective on the nature of war, peace, language, and politics. The events of the production explore the interplay between Siward, commander of English forces in Scotland, Malcolm, the English-installed King of Scotland, and Gruach, formerly both Lady Macbeth and queen of Scotland. Through several rounds and layers of intrigue, Gruach sows enough discord and mayhem to keep English forces at bay. Malcolm, for his part, does his best to engage with Siward in an attempt to illustrate that the use of overwhelming force is not always tenable. After a betrayal late in the first act, the second act functions as an extended denouement, with less action and less emotion. Indeed, the conclusion of the play, with a wandering Siward numbly stumbling out of the scene, parallels the endings to French and U.S. operations in Vietnam, Russian and ISAF campaigns in Afghanistan, UN experiences in Somalia, and the US adventure in Iraq.1

Nuanced allegiances come to the fore in the first act when Siward and Malcolm discuss their own perceived strengths. Siward wishes for Malcolm to act forcefully and seriously, rather than be thought of as a drunken playboy. Malcolm’s subsequent lecture on the desirability of being perceived as weak while operating from a position of strength mirrors current discussions on the rise of Chinese power in the Pacific, echoing Sun Tzu’s exhortation to “appear weak when you are strong.”

The arbiter of the legitimate exercise of violence in Scotland owes more effort than simply appreciating Gaelic songs and lilts.

That Malcolm channels Sun Tzu is not an accident — throughout the play, Malcolm uses a longer, strategic vision of conflict, whereas Siward focuses on the operational level. Siward initially senses that, having “ended” the fighting through the regime change at the end of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, peace is nigh for Scotland and its clans. Throughout the play, Siward’s lack of vision and misunderstanding of the country that he now occupies enables Gruach and the Scottish clan leaders to undermine the English vision for peace. Gruach’s admonition at the end of the play — “you’ve been in Scotland a year, and you still don’t know the language!” — drives home the point that Siward, as the arbiter of the legitimate exercise of violence in Scotland, owes more effort than simply appreciating Gaelic songs and lilts.

Siward’s lieutenant, the tactical supervisor, has no appreciation for Scotland beyond its resources and his survival. He realizes through collaboration with his ostensible foes along with exploitation of war trophies that he has no investment in Scotland, and indeed survives through tactical fits of inaction. His inaction comes back to haunt him at the end of the first act, when, after witnessing a brutally treacherous and suicidal act, he helplessly cries out “we have got to get the fuck out of here,” an exclamation that could be heard on any of a dozen fields of quagmire.2


The slower, more deliberate second act has a scene with the line

“We win because if we don’t win – we lose – and if we lose – then what?”

Here again the play foreshadows discourse about assumptions of a zero-sum world of power. In instances such as China’s increasing influence in the Pacific and the adventures of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, there exists a tendency to leave alternatives to military-centric actions on the table. This unexamined default course of action leads to a path dependency wherein strategic leaders are stuck; they cannot simply withdraw, nor can they simply win. Strategic leaders in those situations, as Malcolm remarks about the English in Scotland, are committed to an extended dance of saving face. In this case — as well with Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, et al — peace operations entail vastly increased losses of materiel, personnel, and treasure.

Greig acknowledges the creeping existential dread that has accompanied interventions since Korea.

Put another way, assumptions of power as a zero-sum game are increasingly outmoded.3 Dunsinane anticipates requirements for transitioning towards alternative concepts of power and peace. Interestingly, through Siward’s downward spiral, Greig acknowledges the creeping existential dread that has accompanied interventions since Korea. In doing so, he makes the case that hard, coercive methods may only have existed as an effective means of exerting power and making peace for a narrow slice of the early 20th century.

Dunsinane’s last and most vivid impression — that of the formerly upright and powerful Siward stumbling around a frozen loch, trying to “find a new country” — conjures images of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent in the mid 20th century, with former powers retreating from far-flung lands and their subsequent search for a new identity. At the same time, Siward’s search for “a new country” calls to mind Hamlet’s “undiscovered country” of a life after death. Judging from Grieg’s narrative, newly post-colonial countries may indeed have to undergo a rebirth if their Siwards are to find peace.


LT Vic Allen serves at the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command and serves as CIMSEC’s Director of Social Media. He can be followed at Medium here. All posts contain the authors’ opinions alone and do not represent any of the military services or the Department of Defense.

1. Ramberg, B. (2009). The Precedents for Withdrawal: From Vietnam to Iraq. Foreign Affairs, 88, 2.

2. The mostly civilian audience laughed at this line, which struck me as oddly incongruent with the sad and violent end of the first act.

3. Read, J. H. (2012). Is Power Zero-sum or Variable-sum? Old Arguments and New Beginnings. Journal of Political Power, 5(1), 5-31. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1900717

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