The Thinking Professional v. The Practical Officer

On Thursday evening CIMSEC held the first annual Forum for Authors and Readers (#CFAR15). The opening keynote talk was delivered by BJ Armstrong, a member of the Center as well as a PhD Candidate in War Studies with King’s College, London and a member of the Editorial Board of the U.S. Naval Institute. The talk is based on his new book “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era” and kicked off an evening of great thinking and discussion on maritime affairs.  We will have videos of the presentations on the website shortly. The following are his prepared remarks…

The Thinking Professional v. The Practical Officer:
Sims on Sailors, Scholars & Scribes

simsIn November of 1900 Lieutenant William Sims joined the wardroom of USS Kentucky, the U.S. Navy’s newest battleship. He had just come from a tour in the Paris embassy, studying and collecting intelligence on European battleship design and gunnery practices. As Kentucky sailed for China Station Sims got his sea legs back and began getting to know his new ship. He started comparing what he had observed in Europe with what he found back at sea with his shipmates, and he began to think that despite new ships and a new found place on the world stage following the victory in the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Navy still had a lot of room for improvement.

Many of you know the history that follows, how Sims found and frankly stole the concept of continuous-aim fire from Captain Percy Scott of the Royal Navy, and then went on to revolutionize naval gunnery. His course was treacherous, and unclear, but eventually throughout the fleet William Sims became known as “the man who taught us how to shoot.”

Sims continued pushing boundaries in the years leading up to World War I: advocating for the all-big-gun battleship, developing torpedo boat and destroyer tactics, and eventually commanding all American naval forces in Europe when the U.S. entered the war. During the war he was central to the adoption of the convoy system that beat the U-boats in the First Battle of the Atlantic. When he returned home he had a second term as President of the Naval War College. There he helped establish the system of study and war-gaming used in the inter-war years to develop naval aviation and American submarines.

William Sims was, beyond a doubt, an innovator. Naval innovation is often seen through the lens of technology, defined by the weapons and hardware which we label as “game-changers” or “transformations.” However, some of the most important developments in history have come from the “software”: or innovations in tactics, techniques, and procedures. Like the development of continuous-aim fire. Ideas, it must be remembered, can be even more powerful than the steel and explosives that dominate our naval heritage.

It was on the prompting of President Teddy Roosevelt that Sims wrote his first article for publication. The success of that piece led him to realize the power of sharing ideas and innovations through professional writing. Throughout the remainder of his life he wrote about dozen articles for the Naval Institute’s journal Proceedings, and more for other magazines. After returning from World War I, he collaborated with Burton Hendrick to write a book. The Victory at Sea was part history and part memoir of the war, and was published to great acclaim. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921.

As the President of the Naval War College at the beginning of the inter-war years, Sims’ thinking on naval warfare and military professionalism had an impact on an entire generation of officers. These were men returning from war and trying to put their experience in perspective and learn lessons for the future. They had names like Nimitz, Spruance, and Halsey.

Today, the ranks of the United States military are again filled with a generation of men and women who are looking back on wartime experience. Many of our junior officers and enlisted have had a level of responsibility during their service which now causes them to bristle at perceived micromanagement and bureaucracy. The military will likely struggle over the next several years to learn how to return to non-combat roles.

What can we do to improve that struggle? What can we do today to ensure that lessons we have learned over the past decade and a half of conflict are not forgotten, and are not ignored?

Over the course of his career, Sims learned a great deal about fighting the military bureaucracy, about successful innovation, and about service before and after war. He wrote about all of these subjects in the latter part of his career, and this knowledge and advice has sat quietly in the archives for today’s innovators and service members, if they want to learn from it.

Here, with CIMSEC’s members and readers, the most relevant parts of this advice may be the importance of professional writing and personal, professional learning. Sims wrote about his experience with both. They were also central to what he saw as lacking in many officers in the Navy of his day.

Taking on The Mahan…

Alfred-Thayer-MahanIn 1906 William Sims was a Lieutenant Commander and still serving in his role as Inspector of Target Practice. The Russo-Japanese War had just come to an end, and navalists all over the world were combing through news reports and the stories of the Battle of Tsushima to analyze lessons for modern naval warfare. One of these navalists was the historian and strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan.

In his day, Mahan was the great thinker on the subject of war and peace, something like how men like Brzezinski or Scrowcroft are seen today combined with a Stavridis or McMaster. He wrote an article for Proceedings that analyzed the events in the Sea of Japan. It drew the lesson that a properly designed fleet required battleships of moderate size, with a varied battery of different sized guns, that could be built in large numbers and were multi-mission. It was a conclusion well in line with the thinking of most of the Admirals in the Navy, and it encouraged the status quo.

Sims’ own experience, gathering intelligence on battleships and in developing continuous-aim fire, suggested something entirely different. He also had a friend with a report on the actual events in the Tsushima Strait to base his analysis on. Sims wrote an article that directly contradicted the great navalist. He demonstrated that the lesson of the Russo-Japanese War was that large battleships, with a battery full of all big guns of the same caliber, were the best way to construct a fleet, even if the expense meant you could only build a smaller number of them. As he wrote in the conclusion of his article:

“I have attempted to show that Captain Mahan’s conclusions are probably in error.”

As the development of the British Dreadnaught would demonstrate, Sims was far closer to how the navies of the world would develop than Mahan was.

Sims’ essay offers readers in the twenty-first century something more than an interesting story of two great naval minds and an abandoned ship class. First, it demonstrates how important a healthy professional debate is for our national security. Without discussion generated by forward-thinking officers and junior civilian analysts in military and security journals, both in print and today online, the military bureaucracy will stagnate and become reactionary. Without the engagement of innovative junior members of the team any organization, whether military or civilian, risks becoming followers instead of leaders in their field.

Sims’ article also demonstrates the importance of expertise. Readers will understand his deep knowledge and obvious study of battleship employment and design. Today’s military innovators and thinkers must learn from this example. They must be willing to jump into the arena of ideas, but they also must be willing to do the hard work of researching and studying their subject in order to get it right.

Today, whether the debate is about the future of the big-deck nuclear aircraft carriers as we recently saw in Annapolis, or about questions of the military effectiveness of swarming small combatants versus today’s modern dreadnaughts, the arguments must be logical, informed by a mastery of the facts, and well presented.

Sims knew that in order to engage the world’s leading navalist in a debate, in order to challenge the great Alfred Thayer Mahan, he had to have his details right and his logic had to be sound. This kind of rigorous and researched engagement on the defense questions of the day offers us an example for the twenty-first century, one that we must aspire to no matter where we are writing, whether in the pages of print journals like Proceedings or online at leading blogs like CIMSEC’s Next War or our other friends at The Strategy Bridge.

“The opportunity that can never return”

But how do we get that level of expertise? Some of it will come from our personal experience on the deckplates or in cockpits deployed across the seven seas. Or service in the desert, or working on staffs in the halls of power, or the buildings of DC. Some of it will come from studying for our tactics quizzes or our NATOPS exams in the ready rooms, or working on getting the right font on the briefing slides at a think tank. But those sources are only going to provide us with a small scale of knowledge, a vital foundation that we must master but something in desperate need of context and broadening. According to Sims we must add to that knowledge through a dedicated pursuit of personal professional study.

In 1921 Sims published his Newport lecture “The Practical Naval Officer” in Proceedings. The lecture is something like a Jazz cover, since he took the title and some of the inspiration from a lecture that Mahan had given in Newport nearly thirty years before. Sims, who had locked horns with the great navalist on Tsushima, now came to embrace his view of strategic education and how to prepare officers for the highest responsibilities of command and policy. There is much to talk about in his lecture, but I will focus on this last of his three pillars of strategic education.

Sims lamented the fact that when he was a junior officer, he spent his time reading subjects that had no real bearing on the military profession. He read some philosophy and political economy, but he appears to have avoided reading military history or learning about governments and international relations or current events. As he became more senior, he slowly realized that he was missing a lot of knowledge. In fact his own perception of his time as a student at the Naval War College wasn’t that it taught him the things he needed to know, instead it highlighted all of the things he didn’t know and still needed to learn.

He wrote:

Specifically addressing the younger officers of the navy, let me say that you now have the opportunity that can never return. It lies with you to determine whether, when you become old, you will have to regret the wasted years of your youth; whether at that period of life you will find yourselves simply “practical men”—“beefeaters’’—or really educated military naval officers.

It will depend largely upon self-instruction and self-discipline. But you must keep clearly in view the fact that, under modern naval conditions, an officer may be highly successful, and even brilliant, in all grades up to the responsible positions of high command, and then find his mind almost wholly unprepared to perform its vitally important functions in time of war.

Where to start? Well, Sims leaves us with a short reading list in his lecture, which you can find in my book “21st Century Sims.” It is impressive how well this list still stands up today. But as he points out, that is just a start. Even after completing their studies at the War College he emphasized to the graduating officers that they should consider themselves to be at the beginning of their education. They must continue on their own if they hope to achieve the level of professionalism that the American people deserve from their armed forces.

There is a common bit of advice that many of us have heard from senior officers looking to mentor us: Take care of your job today, do it well, and you will be prepared for your next job. Focus on today’s tasks and everything else will take care of itself. Sims comes out in direct opposition to this advice. Sure, from a purely careerist point of view it is the best way to ensure you have the right grades and catch phrases on your fitness report for promotion. But from a professional point of view the unspoken part of this advice is that you don’t need to look to the future, to think about the questions “above your pay grade.” Instead, once you’ve completed your daily tasks and your administrative minutia, you can just return to managing your fantasy football team or play some more video games. Even in his day Sims was incensed that senior officers continued to give this advice. He believed that professionalism was more than the shine on your shoes, or the grade on your rules of the road quiz, it meant reading and studying your profession, even in your personal time.

Summation

In his recent book “Saltwater Leadership,” which you will hear some more about later this evening, Admiral Robert Wray conducted a survey of active duty naval officers. They were asked to rank seventy six leadership traits. The last two traits on the list, the least important things to teach young naval officers about leadership, were sensitivity and scholarship. Now, a bit higher on that list was writing ability, at number 33. This begs the question, if we haven’t studied our profession or looked at it in a comprehensive and scholarly way, what exactly do we have to write about? Admiral Sims would probably take exception to this list of what today’s officers believe. He would emphasize that professional writing must be about something, it must demonstrate mastery not only of the technical aspects of a problem but also understanding of the context and history of the issues involved. It must be the result of research, personal study, and yes, scholarship.

In conclusion today, I leave you with the knowledge that the pursuit of professional writing and personal professional study has a long history in the maritime service. It is true, there appear to be very few members of the Flag Ranks who published in the pages of Proceedings before they became important enough to have a staff to help them write. But across time the sailors that really made a difference like Samuel Du Pont, William Sims, Ernest King, Chester Nimitz, Bull Halsey, Bud Zumwalt, Tom Hayward, Jim Stavridis, and a few in uniform today, studied their profession and wrote articles to forward its development. They engaged in the professional debate and discussion well before they assumed the highest responsibilities of command, and our navy and our nation are better for it.

William Sims’ writings offers us an opportunity to be mentored by an accomplished leader who lived more than a century ago. His essays and lectures, with their examples of innovation, education, and leadership, can help us look at the challenges militaries and organizations face in the twenty-first century, ask the right questions, and find solutions. These certainly apply to those in uniform, but at their heart they apply to all leaders, whether from the military, industry, or government. Everyone who is interested in thinking about defense issues.

Like Alfred Thayer Mahan before him, the foundation of much of Sims’ writing and thinking is the idea that asking questions, and doing the work of research and reflection necessary to find the right questions, is at the heart of being a professional. I hope that with new organizations like CIMSEC, and older ones like the Naval Institute, with engaged junior officers and members of the defense community, we can carry on that vital part of our naval heritage.

Thank You.

F-35 Fanboy Makes His Case

Fair warning: what follows is commentary about the F-35. However, this isn’t going to be a very popular commentary, as it doesn’t follow suit with the endless stream of recent articles, opinions, and blog posts making the F-35 out to be the worst debacle in the history of the militaries of the world. On top of those you’d expect, even automotive and IT blogs have piled on.

People who have no idea how government acquisition works, nor the purpose of the Joint Strike Fighter program — or even some who do, among many with ideological axes to grind — relish trashing the F-35, always managing to include “trillion dollar” (or more) somewhere in the title of the latest article to lambast the plane.

The F-35 is a multirole fighter that is designed to replace nearly every fighter in not just the Air Force inventory, but the Navy and Marine Corps as well: the F-16, F/A-18, AV-8B, and A-10, and to augment and partially replace the F-15 and F-22. The F-35 lifetime cost will be less than that of all the diverse platforms it is replacing — and their own eventually needed replacements.

China devoted significant national espionage resources to stealing everything they could about the F-35, and implementing much of what they stole in the J-31/F-60 and J-20, China’s own next-generation multipurpose stealth fighters. This theft added years of delays and hundreds of millions of additional redesign dollars to F-35 development.


Navy test pilot LT Chris Tabert takes off in F-35C test aircraft CF-3 in the first launch of the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter from the Navy’s new electromagnetic aircraft launch system, set to install on USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78).

If anything, the F-35 suffers from being a “jack of all trades, master of none” — which is itself a bit of an overstatement — but we also can’t afford the alternative of follow-on replacement for all existing platforms. And for all the delays, we still have aircraft in the inventory to serve our needs for the next 10-20 years. Articles oversimplifying sensor deficiencies in the first generation, software issues with its 25mm cannon (the gun remains on schedule), or the oft-quoted 2008 RAND report, apparently choose overlook the reality that it’s not going to be instantaneously better in every respect than every aircraft it is replacing, and may never replace aircraft like the A-10 for close air support.

The F-35 development process is no more disorganized than any other USG activity, and if you want to look for people protecting special interests, it’s not with the F-35 — ironically, it’s with those protecting all of the myriad legacy platforms, and all of the countless different contractors and interests involved with not just the aircraft, but all of the subsystems made by even more contractors, all of whom want to protect their interests, and which are served quite well by a non-stop stream of articles and slickly-produced videos slamming the F-35.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was originally to cost $500 million, and is now expected to cost $8.8 billion and will be over a decade late. Shall we cancel it? Or take the pragmatic approach when the purpose of the mission is important and no reasonable alternatives exist? This isn’t a problem with just DOD acquisition. It’s the reality in which we live.

A F-35B hovers during testing.
A F-35B hovers during testing.

One of the reasons the JSF program, and the F-35, came into being is precisely because we won’t be able to afford maintaining and creating replacements for a half-dozen or more disparate aircraft tailor-made for specific services and missions.

The F-35 itself is actually three different aircraft built around the same basic airframe, engine, and systems. The F-35A is the Air Force air attack variant, the F-35B is the VSTOL Marine Corps variant, and the F-35C is the Navy carrier-based variant. If we had already retired every plane the F-35 is supposed to be replacing, there might be cause for concern. But as it stands, we have retired none, and won’t until the F-35 can begin to act in their stead.

The A-10, for instance, has found new life over the last 12 years in close air support roles, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is often held out as an either/or proposition against the F-35. No one ever claimed that the F-35 was a drop-in replacement for an aircraft like the A-10, and no one could have predicted the success the A-10 would again find in environments not envisioned when the JSF program came into being — though some of this success is overstated, claims otherwise notwithstanding. The Air Force is faced with difficult resource prioritization choices; if the A-10 is that critical, keep it. The debate on the future of CAS isn’t dead.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Brad Matherne, a pilot with the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, conducts preflight checks inside an F-35A Lightning II aircraft before its first operational training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis AFB, NV.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Brad Matherne, a pilot with the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, conducts preflight checks inside an F-35A Lightning II aircraft before its first operational training mission April 4, 2013, at Nellis AFB, NV.

If there are questions as to why we even need a fifth-generation manned multirole fighter with the rise of unmanned systems, cyber, and so on, the answer is an easy one: China and Russia both developed fifth-generation fighters, and the purpose of these aircraft isn’t only in a direct war between the US and either of those nations, but for US or allied military activity in a fight with any other nation using Chinese or Russian military equipment, or being protected by China or Russia. You don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.

The F-35 isn’t just a US platform: it will also be used by the UK, Canada, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Israel, Turkey, Singapore, and perhaps other nations. And the fact is, this is not only our fifth-generation manned fighter, it is likely the last. We cannot afford to have separate systems replace all or even most of the platforms the F-35 is replacing, nor can we simply decide to forgo replacements and extend the life of existing platforms by decades.

The F-35 is our nation’s next generation fighter, and it’s here to stay.


F-35B ship suitability testing in 2011 aboard USS Wasp (LHD-1)

Dave Schroeder serves as an Information Warfare Officer supporting NIOC Georgia and NSA/CSS Georgia, and as a tech geek at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. He holds a master’s degree in Information Warfare, and is a graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). He also manages the Navy IDC Self Synchronization effort. When not defending the F-35, he enjoys arguing on the internet. Follow @daveschroeder and @IDCsync.

Peeling Back the Layers: A New Concept for Air Defense

The newest concept being forwarded by U.S. Navy surface fleet leaders is “distributed lethality”, in which almost every combatant and noncombatant surface ship would wield offensive missiles such as the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) or Long Range Anti-ship Missile (LRASM). The concept’s central idea is that deploying a large number of U.S. ships able to threaten enemy ships, aircraft, or shore facilities will create a potentially unmanageable targeting problem for potential adversaries. This, it is argued, could deter opponents from pursuing aggression and in conflict could compel adversaries to increase their defensive efforts, constrain their maneuver, and spend valuable time finding and defeating U.S. forces in detail.

Implementing this concept should start with the Navy’s surface combatants, rather than its numerous unarmed non-combatant ships. Arming the Navy’s more than 60 logistics and support ships with offensive missiles and providing them the command and control systems to coordinate their fires will be costly. And once equipped, these noncombatant ships will become more attractive targets while not being better able to protect themselves unless further investments are made in defensive systems. In the end, offensive operations could distract noncombatant ships from their primary missions and reduce the endurance of combatants that depend on them for fuel and to conduct less stressing missions such as training and counter-piracy.

Given the challenges in using supply and support ships for offensive missions, the first step to implement distributed lethality should be to ensure all the Navy’s surface warships are able to conduct offensive operations. These consist of amphibious ships and surface combatants.

The fleet’s approximately 30 amphibious ships conduct offensive operations using their main battery of embarked Marines, which could be complemented with offensive missiles. The best way to do this would be with vertical launch system (VLS) magazines. While amphibious ships have more defensive systems than non-combatant ships, they still may not be sufficient for some environments. Since a VLS can host a wide range of missiles, it would enable an amphibious ship to increase either its offensive or defensive weapons capacity based on the intended mission and threat environment.

The most important element of the fleet for distributed lethality, however, will be the Navy’s 140 surface combatants (88 large surface combatants and 52 small surface combatants, based on the Navy’s force structure requirement). These ships already have some defensive and command and control capabilities to protect themselves and coordinate offensive operations. But they all lack offensive capacity because of their configuration (in the case of small combatants) or air defense concept (in the case of large surface combatants)

Restoring surface combatant lethality

Small surface combatants such as minesweepers, patrol craft, and Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) have only a few short-range offensive weapons. The stated intent of surface fleet leaders is to augment these on LCS with long-range surface-to-surface missile launchers, but the launcher being considered is specific to a weapon such as NSM, rather than a more versatile VLS array. As with amphibious ships, LCS may need to increase its defensive capacity if it is pursuing more offensive operations. A VLS magazine would enable LCS to load more defensive missiles along with offensive weapons, with the additional benefit of being able to protect a nearby ship from air threats as an escort–a capability it lacks today.

Large surface combatants such as cruisers (CG) and destroyers (DDG) have VLS magazines, but are unable to make room in them for more offensive missiles because of the surface fleet’s current air defense approach. This approach is designed to engage enemy aircraft and missiles in multiple layers starting from long range (from 50 nm to more than 100 miles) through medium range (about 10–30 miles) to short range (less than about 5 miles). Each layer is serviced by a different set of interceptors, with those for the long-range layer (e.g., SM-2 and SM-6) being the largest and most preferentially used. Electronic warfare jammers and decoys are also used from medium to short range, but only after interceptors have been unsuccessfully expended against incoming missiles.

This layered air defense scheme puts surface combatants on the wrong end of weapon and cost exchanges. Using today’s standard shot doctrine of “shoot, shoot, look, shoot” (SS-L-S) the complete 96-cell VLS capacity of a DDG (if all devoted to air defense) would be consumed against fewer than fifty ASCMs—missiles that would cost the enemy about two percent the price of a DDG.

Better long-range interceptors will not improve the weapon exchange and only exacerbate the Navy’s cost disadvantage. The SM-6 interceptor that entered service last year is faster, longer range, more maneuverable, and has a better seeker than the Cold War-era SM-2 but costs about $4 million compared to $680,000 for an SM-2. Meanwhile a typical advanced ASCM costs about $2-3 million. Given a SS-L-S firing doctrine, each defensive engagement using SM-6s will cost two to four times that of the ASCM it is intended to defeat.

A new air defense approach

The size of VLS magazines cannot be changed; therefore making VLS cells available for offensive weapons will require either using fewer air defense interceptors or getting more interceptors into each VLS cell. The Navy could use fewer air defense interceptors by changing its shot doctrine to S-L-S. The SM-6 shows improvements in interceptor lethality are possible and could eventually make a S-L-S doctrine viable. But a S-L-S doctrine will still require initial engagements to occur far enough away to allow a second engagement before the incoming ASCM hits the ship. This will require large, long-range interceptors such as SM-6 that take up a whole VLS cell and over-the-horizon (OTH) targeting from another ship or an aircraft. In the end a shift to S-L-S would only double air defense capacity at best and may not free up many VLS cells for offensive missiles.

Alternatively, the Navy could fit more interceptors into fewer VLS cells by shifting to a shorter-range air defense scheme. Shorter-range weapons such as the Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESSM) Block 2 that will debut in 2020 are smaller than longer-range interceptors and can exploit the same lethality improvements as SM-6 to achieve a high probability of defeating incoming ASCMs. The ESSM fits four to a VLS cell–quadrupling air defense capacity–while it’s range will be about 10-30 miles. It would thus engage incoming ASCMs at about the same range as electronic warfare (EW) jamming, deception, and decoy systems (depending on the ASCM’s altitude). This will make it possible for EW to reduce the number of interceptors expended, compared to today’s scheme in which EW is only used after interceptors have failed.

clark-1 New defensive AAW scheme

A 10-30 mile air defense scheme will also prepare the surface fleet to integrate new weapons such as lasers and electromagnetic railguns (EMRG) that will likely be mature in the early to mid-2020s. While these weapons cannot fully replace interceptors, they could enable the Navy to shift additional VLS capacity to offensive missiles. The shipboard lasers expected in this timeframe would be effective against ASCMs out to a range of about 10 miles while an EMRG will be able to engage incoming ASCMs out to about 30 miles. At longer ranges, the unpowered EMRG projectile will take too long to reach an incoming ASCM, which could maneuver and cause the EMRG to miss.

The resulting air defense scheme would consist of lasers, EMRGs, interceptors (e.g., ESSM), and EW systems engaging incoming missiles in a dense layer 10–30 miles away from the ship. This is far enough away for a surface combatant to protect another ship while each ship’s self-defense systems would engage “leakers” at 2–5 miles. Automated decision aids that match air defense systems to incoming missiles will be an essential element of this scheme since multiple systems will be engaging incoming missiles at the same approximate range. These aids are inherent to the Aegis combat system, but would have to be upgraded to incorporate new weapons such as lasers and EMRGs

clark 2         Evolved VLS loadout with proposed weapons changes

Offensive anti-air warfare (AAW) is the other side of this new air defense approach. While air defense shifts to 10-30 miles using weapons such as ESSM and lasers, longer-range interceptors such as SM-2 and SM-6 would focus on shooting down enemy aircraft before they can launch ASCM attacks. SM-6s, in particular, can engage enemy aircraft outside their ASCM range and are much less expensive than the aircraft they will destroy, producing a more advantageous cost exchange than using SM-6 against enemy ASCMs. Further, enemy aircraft generally fly at higher altitudes than ASCMs, enabling them to be detected farther away by shipboard radars whose visibility is limited by the horizon.

If the surface fleet is to implement distributed lethality, the place to start is with surface combatants. Today they lack the offensive capacity to pose a significant threat to enemy navies. Obtaining that capacity from the surface fleet’s main battery, the VLS magazine, will require that the Navy revisit fundamental aspects of how it fights. The alternative will be to continue devoting increasing portions of its weapons capacity to defense, and concepts such as distributed lethality will only exist in the pages of professional journals.

Bryan Clark is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. This post is adapted from his recent report “Commanding the Seas: A Plan to Reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare.”

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.

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