Camouflage: You Ain’t Screen Nothin’ Yet

By James Drennan

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


Risks in Contracting Government Security Forces in Gulf of Guinea

My previous article explored the use of police and naval forces in Nigeria for the provision of private maritime security. The analysis focused on the Nigerian Navy’s Western Naval Command’s area of responsibility and visiting merchant vessels, rather than the use of security forces on oil & gas prospects inside the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

This article investigates the effectiveness of various private arrangements with Nigerian security as well as some updates on the “usage” and liability implications for shipping companies utilizing such services.

Status of the use of Nigerian Navy and Police for private maritime security roles

There is no single legislation specifically dedicated to regulating maritime security issues in Nigeria. Rather, the issue of maritime security in Nigeria is dealt with in piecemeal fashion in various legislative instruments, as a result of which there seems to be some degree of overlap of functions between the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Marine Police (NMP). What we observe at the moment is the evolution of rules and policies through practice adopted by security agencies within their respective jurisdictions. As I have pointed out in my last article here, there is a discrepancy between the individual arrangements by unauthorised agents and clients and the rules and policies set by the security agencies irrespective of whether those are enforced or not.

Subsequent to my previous article, the Inspector General of the Police (IGP) has reiterated in writing to the Commissioners of Police (Maritime) in the relevant coastal states of Nigeria his policy that his personnel (the NMP) are not to be used outside their jurisdiction. Some agents and security providers have sought to side-step this restriction by alleging they had been granted permission to embark naval personnel. The Nigerian Navy’s position remains that any use of Nigerian Navy personnel without a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or in contravention to the terms therein is considered “unofficial allocation” and thus unauthorised. No evidence in writing, except the acknowledgement by various naval commands of receipt of enquiries, have been provided to back claims that the Nigerian Navy has reversed its previous stance that it has adopted since 2012.

[Photo: “Acknowledgement of receipt” provided by a security provider to a client as “evidence” of approval to embark naval personnel.]
[Photo: “Acknowledgement of receipt” provided by a security provider to a client as “evidence” of approval to embark naval personnel.]
Embarked security teams vs patrol boats

Embarked security forces are a relatively new development in Nigeria. Traditionally, government security forces (in the Niger Delta) have utilized light craft for escort duties. Embarked teams were largely confined to platforms, which inside the EEZ constitute extensions of sovereign territory. Whether this approach was the result of a deliberate security planning process or not is now hard to establish, but it has had implications on how the navy’s light forces have evolved from their operational and tactical low point in 2006/7 until today and how the Nigerian Navy views its role in securing private assets in Nigerian waters.

Embarked security teams in Nigeria, where they exist, continue to share many attributes of the poorly trained and motivated forces that make up the bulk of Nigeria’s garrison army and land-based security forces. Adding this to the lack of aptitude (in terms of training, familiarization etc.) of those teams for the maritime environment, then it becomes clear that the question whether to use embarked security or escort vessels is more than a legal (or even financial) question; it is about the ability to deliver effective security and mitigate risks without creating (more than is necessary) new ones.

Embarked security teams

The record of embarked security forces on client vessels is in the Gulf of Guinea is mixed. Contrary to the Indian Ocean experience, vessel carrying embarked armed teams off Nigeria have been boarded and seized by attackers or crewmembers kidnapped, although this was most frequently the case in the context of the Niger Delta insurgency between 2006 and 2009 that targeted floating offshore installations, such as the FSO OLOIBIRI, the FPSO MYTRAS or the BERGE OKOLOBA TORU. However, the conditions and modus operandi that embarked teams continue to face in and off the Niger Delta remain similar and many target vessels today are in fact tankers that are stationary, drifting or engaged in ship-to-ship transfers and therefore tactically not more challenging to the attackers (who are for the most part ex-militants). If anything, the small product tankers are easier to board than the high-freeboard Floating Production Storage & Offloading units targeted by the militants during the insurgency.

The vulnerability of embarked security teams is even more pronounced for security vessels, especially those of an improvised nature with no mounted weapons, which are a requirement for those vessels approved by the Nigerian Navy under the current MoU. In the discussion on pirate violence in Nigeria it is often forgotten that almost half of the casualties to date in pirate incidents have been government security forces – usually embarked on vessels of oil & gas contractors. This has prompted the Nigerian inter-agency Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta to declare a ban on using such embarked teams from 19 November 2013 onwards in favour of river gun boats. Companies continue to ignore this at their own risk, as a recent example of an attack on a contractor vessel on the Sambreiro River on 17 June 2014 shows: one soldier and two crewmembers were injured before the attackers managed to snatch an employee of an oil company from the boat.

The embarked security forces’ shortfalls range from inability to detect and engage at night (when the bulk of attacks take place off Nigeria), inability to manoeuvre, and lack of co-ordination to poor weapons discipline. Poor motivation of the embarked soldiers and police officers in the face of aggressive and well-equipped attackers complement the picture. This pattern has not fundamentally changed since 2006/7.

Case Study 1: SP BRUSSELS

The fatality of one crewmember on board the PYXIS DELTA roads during a shoot-out between her embarked security detachment and attackers on Lagos roads the night of 4 February 2013 was brushed off as a tragic accident. The attack on the Marshall Island-flagged product tanker SP BRUSSELS off the Niger Delta on 29 April 2014, however, highlighted the risks associated with embarking armed teams in the Gulf of Guinea, especially off Nigeria. These risks are commonly misunderstood by people who believe that armed teams have the same effect in the region as they have in the Indian Ocean. This is not the case.

The SP BRUSSELS’s chief engineer paid for this misunderstanding with his life; the 3rd officer narrowly escaped when the ship’s bridge suddenly turned into a shooting gallery. While, arguably, the guards prevented the ship from being hijacked, they did so at a price. Given that none of the 38 successful tanker hijackings since the VALLE DI CORDOBA incident in December 2010 in the Gulf of Guinea had resulted in a fatality, this was an avoidable result.

From the confused crew accounts of the attack on the SP BRUSSELS and the Nigerian Navy’s investigation several things become clear:

The vessel was transiting in international waters with two embarked Nigerian policemen (NMP) as security guards. At the time of the attack (ca. 2015 hrs) by a single speedboat and a total of 8 attackers, the ship was idling at 6 kts approximately 35 nm from the Bayelsa coast, SW of Forcados (Delta State), a notoriously dangerous area off the Niger Delta at the time.

  • Of the 2-man team, one was on watch, smoking at the time of the attack in the starboard bridge wing (the attack unfolded on the port side, leading to the death of the chief engineer)
  • There was no general alert and the second guard had to be roused by a crewmember. By the time he arrived on deck it appeared some attackers had already boarded.
  • The guard team appears to have made their stand on the bridge, possibly killing two pirates in the process while the ship’s crew hid in the citadel (with the exception of the injured 3rd officer and the dead chief engineer).
  • The actual course of events until the next morning remains controversial, with the Nigerian Navy alleging that their intervention by NNS BENIN and NNS IKOT-ABASI had resulted in the defeat of the pirates and the subsequent arrest of the 6 surviving attackers.
  • The chief engineer’s exact circumstances of death are uncertain as is the injury of the 3rd officer, as he fled the bridge.

[Photo: Damage to the bridge of SP BRUSSELS from the firefight on the bridge. (Source: withheld)]
[Photo: Damage to the bridge of SP BRUSSELS from the firefight on the bridge. (Source: withheld)]
The ship was eventually taken into custody by the Nigerian Navy on Lagos roads the following morning and detained for several weeks as a part of the investigation, which also extended to the question whether or not the ship had been permitted to carry NMP personnel outside their jurisdiction.

Case Study 2: SEA STERLING

The Nigerian-flagged product tanker SEA STERLING was attacked on 26 August 2014 west of the Pennington Loading Terminal, 45 nm SSE of the position in which the SP BRUSSELS had been attacked in an area, which to date in 2014 had experienced no less than 3 kidnappings, a hijacking and at least 7 attacks against product tankers – the majority in January-March 2014.

The SEA STERLING carried a team of three Nigerian Navy ratings, procured through a PMSC that had recently set up business in Nigeria and held the same MoU with the Navy like all 42 security companies, which, as mentioned above, only permits the use of navy personnel on “suitable” and “approved” vessels, i.e. patrol boats which are entered into the Nigerian Navy’s list of warships.

[Photo: The SEA STERLING on Lagos roads in April 2014. (Dirk Steffen)]
[Photo: The SEA STERLING on Lagos roads in April 2014. (Dirk Steffen)]
Like other episodes, which have aroused the suspicion of Nigerian authorities, the contrasting versions of the incident do not quite add up. The ship allegedly spotted a bunker barge trailing her at 1810 hrs and then claimed to have been pursued until 2100 hrs at which point a speedboat was lowered and approached the tanker. The distress signal was sent at this point, although the ship’s AIS had been switched off at 1812 hrs, indicating a speed of 6.2 knots at the time and a destination port of Lomé, rather than Onne, which was claimed to be the vessel’s destination. There ensued an on-and-off engagement in which the attackers subjected the ship to suppression fire – allegedly with two belt-fed weapons – and at least two individuals boarded the tanker.

A privately contracted patrol vessel (name withheld) from an adjacent oil field responded to the distress call and arrived on the scene at 2345 hrs, firing several warning shots which prompted the boarders to disembark, return to the bunker barge and flee the scene of the crime. The ship was inspected by the naval craft, but lacking further authority could not prevent from SEA STERLING departing from the area in the early hours of 28 August with her AIS still switched off.

Patrol boats: opportunities and limitations

In a report of Gulf of Guinea tanker hijackings Risk intelligence identified at least 11 cases between December 2010 and August 2013 which involved a local or international naval response with warships, either as part of a patrol scheme or in response to an ongoing at­tack. This figure does not include incidents where local navies were called and did not respond or react. In six of the seven “prevention cases” the naval forces were success­ful in disrupting the attack; in one case two Beninese naval vessels were too late to intervene in order to prevent a hi­jacking. This was in part owed to the ship under attack – the RBD ANEMA E CORE (hijacked on 24 July 2011 off Cotonou) – waiting too long before sending out a distress call.

Once pirates have boarded a ship, the scope for any intervention is much reduced, as the “response cases” show. The unsuccessful sortie of the Togolese Navy in response to the attack on the ENERGY CENTURION on 28 August 2012 off Lomé stands out as an example of local navies’ inability to ensure security of the patrolled zones and to respond effectively at the same time. This argument has been made before, but since that very early stage of the (then very vaguely defined) Togolese secure anchorage, this type of failure has not been repeated.

The inability of local naval forces to provide a timely and effective response is a key argument for those promoting embarked security forces, even though dedicated escort is available both in the Secure Anchorage Area and the Bonny River Convoy. Neither of those two secured operations has so far experienced a successful pirate attack. Patrol boats can also be hired directly, but the cost is a multiple of the embarked team, which serves as a commercial deterrent and is more likely to be the key argument in favour of the embarked security forces.

[Photo: NNS IKOT-ABASI, pictured here on Lagos roads in April 2014, responded to the distress call made by the SP BRUSSELS. (Dirk Steffen)]
[Photo: NNS IKOT-ABASI, pictured here on Lagos roads in April 2014, responded to the distress call made by the SP BRUSSELS. (Dirk Steffen)]
On balance, however, experience of the past 2-3 years has shown that attackers usually desist or abandon their endeavours in the presence of patrol boats – be they actual navy vessels or privately contracted look-alikes. The drastic, most likely punitive, killings of 13 of the 16 pirates who boarded the Nigerian-owned tanker NORTE (with a cargo owned by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company) on 17 August 2013 is thought to have had an impact on the mindset and modus operandi of would-be tanker hijackers in terms of that it will become more likely that attackers will resort to using human shields while retreating to the safety of the creeks in the Niger Delta. Equally, restraint by the navies (as was the case in the hijacking of the ADOUR on 13 June 2013, although this was an intervention after the deed, not one that resulted from a failed protection mission) can ensure safety of the hostages in case of a successful boarding by pirates.


In terms of liability and externalisation of risk, the patrol boats have some advantages over the embarked navy teams. Since even the contracted patrol boats are under navy operational command, law suits for loss of life of navy personnel or damage to navy property will be unlikely, especially inside territorial waters. Conversely, a major European charterer is currently being sued by the Nigerian government over the death of a policeman who was killed while being part of an embarked team.

The possibility of the patrol boat directing its fire against the client vessel (for example to prevent a boarding) is a real risk and probably the gravest. So far, this has not occurred in the Gulf of Guinea. On the other hand, several casualties have occurred as a result of embarked security teams being involved in the defence of merchant vessels. While, it is unclear who actually shot the 3rd officer on the SP BRUSSEL’s bridge, the use of Nigerian Police Force personnel outside their jurisdiction and outside territorial waters had wider-ranging implications for the vessel’s insurance and potentially also opens up the way for a lawsuit by the deceased chief engineer’s relatives against the shipping company.

Many of these liability issues are at the moment only being superficially considered by shipowners and operators especially when arrangements for the provision of embarked security forces are made or implemented in breach of existing legislation or other “policies” promulgated by the security agencies – also referred to as “unofficial allocations” in Nigerian Navy parlance. In this regard, it must be noted that every marine insurance policy has an implied warranty that the voyage is lawful. Thus, having embarked armed guards (or a patrol boat escort as well for that matter) without an express provision in the insurance policy to cover such operations, and that such operations conform to applicable law, may render a lawful voyage potentially unlawful, which in turn may invalidate the policy and discharge the insurer(s) from the liability.

As far as claims by the Nigerian government are concerned, the Nigerian Navy and Police Force may be confronted with a situation in which they will not be indemnified for suffering losses for providing a service inside territorial waters which they would be obliged to render anyway (maritime security) even without pay. However, it is evident that the Nigerian government intends to pursue shipowners or charterers for compensation regardless.


In spite of both local and foreign (even if incorporated in Nigeria) security providers’ attempts to exploit the legal loopholes and lack of inter-agency co-ordination and enforcement of security agencies’ policies, the use of embarked Nigerian security forces in Nigerian waters or offshore Nigeria remains fraught with risks which appear to outweigh the benefits. The use of such teams is frequently an excuse for neglecting other security measures and, understandably, a product of cost and expedience.

The Nigerian Navy remains committed to promoting its own vision of providing localised security through (often privately operated) patrol boats and secured areas and will continue to apply political leverage to that effect, therefore creating a tangible risk for all “unofficial allocations” of government security personnel. As evidenced by the IGP’s directive and the Flag Officer Commanding Central Naval Command’s written approval for the use of NMP inside their jurisdiction on contractors’ security vessels, the Nigerian Police Force’s policy is not as divergent from the Navy’s as it is frequently portrayed.

Photo: Letter by the Flag Officer Commanding Central Naval Command authorizing the use of Nigerian Police inside their jurisdiction on contractors’ security vessels.
Photo: Letter by the Flag Officer Commanding Central Naval Command authorizing the use of Nigerian Police inside their jurisdiction on contractors’ security vessels.


The current lawsuit over the death of a Nigerian policeman also illustrates that the “official” Nigerian policy takes a dim view of what little regulation exists being undermined by foreign shipping companies and charterers through the use of what are effectively rogue security teams. Whether or not the security agencies’ policies are driven by particular (pecuniary) interests rather than by an overarching security strategy is immaterial with regards to the risks that parties run when ignoring these “official” policies, which are de facto enforced, in favour of “unofficial arrangements”.

Finally, it is becoming increasingly evident that embarked teams – whether contracted directly or through foreign PMSCs – do not provide the level of risk reduction as advertised (or experienced in the Indian Ocean) because they often attract violence by a particular type of Niger Delta-based attackers in a way that embarked security does not in other places of the world.

Dirk Steffen is the Director Maritime Security for Denmark-based Risk Intelligence. He has been covering the Gulf of Guinea as a consultant and analyst since 2004.


Sea Control 52 – EUCAP NESTOR and Piracy

seacontrol2James Bridger interviews Marko Hekkens on the EU project to build partner capacity in Africa and fight piracy- EUCAP NESTOR.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 52 – EUCAP NESTOR and Piracy

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WarPlan Crimson: The NextWar Schedule (14 Sept)

WarPlan Crimson is the long-view schedule for NextWar and its Sea Control Podcast

NextWar Upcoming Topic Weeks:

Forgotten Naval Strategists – Sept 30-Oct5
Editor: Tiago Mauricio & Matt Hipple – NEXTWAR(at)
BJ Armstrong widened the view of Mahan with his book 21st Century Mahan, but let’s do one better by expanding our register of maritime strategists – the forgotten & abused navalists. Inspired by ‘s article on Fernando de Oliveira.

Maritime/Defense Innovation – Oct 21-31
Editor: David Lyle – jamminnav(at)
Coalition Effort with “The Bridge
With the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum sandwiched like delicious deli turkey in the middle, we’ll be discussing innovation & innovators past, present, and future in the realm of defense technology and methodology – with a particular eye towards the maritime realm.

Ship Design – Oct 18 – Nov 22
Editor: Alex Clarke – alexanderdouglasclarke (at)
What is the state of modern ship-building and are we building the right kinds of ships, but militarily and commercially, that take best advantage of our concepts, our geography, and our technology?

Amphibious – Dec 9 – 13
Editor: TBD
Talkin’ bout taking beaches, kickin’ in coast-shaped doors, and expeditionary goodness.

Sea Control Podcast Schedule:

Sept 22: Sea Control, Asia-Pacific
Sept 29: The Future Defense Industry
Oct 6: East Atlantic: Falklands 2 – Col. Pike and Maj Neame
Oct 13: African Border Control


Maritime Silk Road: Through a New Periscope

It was the Maldives’s turn to receive a sermon on the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) from China. Chinese President Xi Jinping invited Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen to participate in the 21st Century MSR, expand cooperation in tourism, trade and infrastructure, and enhance maritime cooperation. Apparently Yameen assured Xi that his country would “respond to the Chinese initiative.” Ali Hameed, former vice foreign minister of the Maldives, too had stated that the MSR was of interest to the Maldives. Earlier, Xi had approached Sri Lanka to consider the MSR, and Colombo indicated that it would actively examine the proposal. The MSR was also raised during Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari’s visit to China a few months ago.

Unlike in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, the MSR has sent the Indian strategic community into a tizzy. A number of articles, commentaries, op eds, discussions and sound bites have concluded that the MSR is nothing but a Chinese ploy to get a naval ‘foothold’ in the Indian Ocean and reflects China’s creeping influence in the region. These reactions are quite natural given that China has aggressively pursued the agenda of building maritime infrastructure in friendly countries such as Pakistan (Gwadar), Sri Lanka (Hambantota) and now the Maldives – that are seen as bases/facilities to support People’s Liberation Army Navy’s future operations in the Indian Ocean and also the Chinese attempt to ‘encircle’ India.

However, it will be useful to examine the MSR through the prism of maritime infrastructure development and explore if India can leverage the MSR to its advantage. China has developed a sophisticated concept of marine economy that has been facilitated by its long coastline. Nearly 40 per cent of the Chinese population, 5 per cent of cities, 70 per cent of GDP, 84 per cent of direct foreign investment and export products are generated within 200 km of coast. In 1998, the Chinese government published a White Paper on marine economy which identified twenty different sectors for the development of the national economy. The China Ocean Information Center announced that the marine output in 2013 grew 7.6 per cent year on year to 5.43 trillion Yuan ($ 876 billion) accounting for 9.5 per cent of the national economy. In essence, the coastal provinces have contributed substantially to the overall national strength in terms of economic growth and play an important role in developing an export-oriented economy.

Today, China figures among the top countries in shipbuilding, ports (particularly container cargo), shipping, development of offshore resources, inland waterways, marine leisure tourism, and not to forget it is one of the top suppliers of human resources who are employed by international shipping companies.

mahinda-rajapakse-backs-chinas-maritime-silk-road-projectChina’s shipbuilding capacity is notable and is supported by plentiful of cheap labour and domestic ancillary industry which is endowed with exceptional engineering skills. Seven of the top ten global container ports are in China and the Chinese shipping fleet of 6,427 vessels ranks second behind Japan with 8,357 ships. Similar successes are seen in China’s fisheries production which is projected to reach about 69 metric tonnes by 2022 and it will continue to be top world exporter with 10 metric tonnes by 2022. Likewise, China ranked third as a tourist destination in 2012. The coastal regions are dotted with marinas, water sport parks and beach resorts and Sanya, Qingdao and Xiamen are home to the growing yacht and luxury boating industry.

These capabilities have been built over the past few decades and has placed China among the major maritime powers of the world and top Asian maritime powers – beating both Japan and South Korea. China is leveraging these capabilities and offering to develop maritime infrastructure in friendly countries that are willing to accept the offer – which at times makes an attractive investment opportunity, and can help these exploit the seas to enhance economic growth, and ensure food and energy security.

There is a sea change in the maritime strategic thinking of China and India. While the former has harnessed the seas to build its power potential, the latter needs to undertake a strategic evaluation of its maritime potential. India needs to make major policy changes to develop maritime infrastructure, offshore resources and exploit these on a sustainable basis. Although India is pursuing the path of building a modern three-dimensional navy with nuclear submarines, a new appreciation of the multifaceted maritime economic activity needs New Delhi’s attention.

India lacks maritime infrastructure and technology to exploit offshore marine organic, mineral and hydrocarbon resources that are critical to ensure sustained economic growth – which is high on the current government’s agenda. It would therefore be prudent to understand the MSR through the prism of an opportunity.

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


Call for Articles: Forgotten Naval Strategists Week

CIMSEC will soon run a series dedicated to expanding the naval canon entitled “Forgotten Naval Strategists”. From September 30 until October 5 (or when we run out of articles), we want to discover and explore the ideas and works of naval strategists whose names remain largely unknown. Articles are due to “Nextwar(at)” by 26 September.

In an article published in July I argued that a founding manuscript of the naval studies lore is absent in the historiography. Oliveira’s 1555 “The Art of War at Sea” remains unknown to many navalists, including some in his own country: Portugal. The larger and unwritten argument in that piece was that many other works remain unmentioned in the debate. Simply put, these are the works that never make it to the syllabi of naval war colleges.

This series aims to raise awareness to these lesser known strategists and their contributions to the theory of maritime power. If we are to grasp the growing complexity of human activities at sea, from the sea, and through the sea, we have a professional as well as moral duty to look beyond the horizon and expand our intellectual toolkit to devise new solutions to deal with maritime problems.

This upcoming quest to expand our knowledge of forgotten naval strategists echoes two previous calls made elsewhere in the blogosphere. First, the good folks at Kings of War had an article a few years ago asking which country had produced the greatest strategists. In the comments section, many people jumped into the discussion and took some liberties to mention unsung heroes. Second, James Holmes’ The Naval Diplomat had a series of controversial articles asking whether America still had any naval strategists. These  two articles give us some hints about the way in which a debate about expanding the naval canon should be conducted and we urge you to read them too.

To conclude, submissions must focus on one strategist whose work, for whatever reason, goes unappreciated in current naval debates. As an example, contributions by strategists from Italy, India, China, Brazil, Japan, among other countries, are most welcomed. The challenge is to identify a theoretical contribution, either a specific concept or a broad formulation, that helps us understand maritime strategy. To put it bluntly, we don’t want yet another piece explaining why everyone should read Mahan or Corbett; we know that already. We also don’t want an eulogy for an admiral’s feats in battle. Remember, it’s all about their intellectual contributions to the study of maritime strategy!

Series title: “Forgotten Naval Strategists”
Due Date: September 26
Due to: Nextwar(at)
Running: September 30 – October 5
Format: 500-2000 words

Epic writer Luís Camões salvages his masterpiece "Os Lusíadas" from a shipwreck. Watercolour by Francisco de Resende (1867)
Epic writer Luís de Camões salvages his masterpiece “Os Lusíadas” from a shipwreck. Watercolour by Francisco de Resende (1867)

Assessing the President’s ISIL Speech as Strategic Communication

This piece was written in response to the Presidential address on ISIL and as part of our Strategic Communications week.

13 years ago America woke up to the Long War. September 10th was a sadly appropriate time for the President to address the continuation of the conflict: ISIL – the message of the speech was that this Long War will continue to be so.

As a piece of strategic communication, the speech laid out something best said by .38 Special:

Just hold on loosely
But don’t let go
If you cling too tightly
You’re gonna lose control
Your baby needs someone to believe in
And a whole lot of space to breathe in

The president’s intent was to explain the threat of ISIL, then walk the fine line of both destroying ISIL and avoiding the entanglement he sees in America’s thirteen years of ground war. In short, America will destroy ISIL, but America will not be the one to destroy ISIL – America will look to Arab partners, the Iraqi military, and the Syrian opposition, with the support of American advisers and airpower.

Let’s go into the details of looking at this speech, not for the policy, but as a piece of strategic communication.

To Everyone:
ISIL Is a Threat & Will Be Destroyed

While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners, including Europeans and some Americans, have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.

This was considered by many the President’s moment to explain, particularly to the American people, explicitly the threat posed by ISIL, which he did by drawing the thread between opportunity, capability, and intent: the proven brutality and capability of ISIL, the stated aims, and their ability to get people of bad intent to us. This was likely aimed at European audiences as well.

I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are… This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.

That message and its purpose probably doesn’t need any explanation.

To Middle Eastern Actors in General :
We’ll Be
Holding On Loosely

This is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region…
…This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partners’ forces on the ground.

Whether we can rely on the emergence of an enemy’s enemies coalition or an inclusive Iraqi government is to be seen, but this speech was likely meant as a final signalling to those in and around this cross-border conflict that the US will not be the one to “contain” this situation, and that the ongoing proxy war may threaten to consume all of them.  The thinking may be that regional actors, once realizing the US will not “swoop in” will turn upon this conflict’s most disturbing symptom rather than each other.

No particular partners are mentioned other than the new Iraqi government, Kurdish Forces, and the vague “Syrian opposition” – the particulars of a specific Syrian opposition group, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and many of the gulf states who choose to playing a part in extending this crisis are left out. This is likely on purpose, requiring no explanations of whose name was said, left out, or why.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

This is a side note to the more general trend, but the division of Iraqi and Kurdish forces should be recognized in the language. This could be a natural result of the bifurcation of the two forces’ effort in fighting and the desire to recognize the enormous contribution of the Kurds or a more subtle political intent.

To Congress:
But We Won’t Let Go

We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter terrorism strategy.

That the US is now firmly aimed at ISIL and alot of resources, thought not troops, will be aimed in their direction. This not surprise to anyone – more importantly, the president communicated two specific points to Congress: he needed not seek their specific approval, but wanted to engage them & desperately wishes for them to expand their engagement in Syria.

I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL. But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger…
…It was formerly al-Qaida’s affiliate in Iraq and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border.

This is pretty clear – some have speculated the president would seek Congress’s approval. He, fairly safely, presumes to tacitly have it amidst the unclear debate some are having on whether he needs it explicitly. Likely, this is also why he mentioned ISIL’s association with al-Qaida.

Tonight, I again call on Congress, again, to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people — a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost.

Here the President is extending the discussion from earlier discussions on involvement in Syria – this is a point he does not plan on giving up, though in this speech it was buried in the larger narrative of his over-arching strategy. Having previously discussed the brutality of ISIL, he wishes to show how Assad cannot be a partner in their defeat – having already shown the same brutality. Realists would debate this point – but the president illustrates throughout the speech an intent to engage soft power and counter ideology.  This will be something he will continue to push in the future.

To the American People:
Won’t Cling Too Tightly, and Lose Control

The president is trying to establish certain foundational points here with the American people for their support:

As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission. We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq…
…I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.

1.) The US will not go full-bore into this conflict, “returning” or being “dragged” back into what they’ve been used to for a decade. This was the great fear when the Syria debate arose, and one the President would like to avoid. This is likely meant to “cut off at the pass” the likely debate of mission creep, or at least hold off discussion and a potential negative consensus if it does happen.

We can’t erase every trace of evil from the world and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm…
…It will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL.

2.) Keeping expectations realistic. The strategy laid-out is, indeed, a long one – and the statement that “we can’t erase every trace of evil from the world” is an acceptance that many more like-threats will come in the future. The President likely wishes to avoid any sense of triumphalism or expectation of a quick victory that will later be dashed and undermine support for the mission.

…any time we take military action, there are risks involved, especially to the servicemen and -women who carry out these missions.

3.) This is to set up the expectation of risk – with personnel in-theater and aircraft overhead, any discussion of this being “low risk” would immediately undermine the mission if/when our people are killed/kidnapped by ISIL or if an aircraft were to go down.  The reality-check on the longevity and risk of this conflict up front may not create the initial surge of support, but will create a more sturdy and realistic appreciation for what we’re doing that may last longer.

To Middle Easterners & Potential Western ISIL “Converts”:
Middle East has America to believe in,
But whole lot of space to breathe in.

As stated throughout the speech—the United States is committed to the region, but the dialogue of “airpower”, standoff “counter-insurgency”, and advisors is to push the narrative that the US will not be occupiers again. This is likely a long-shot attempt to communicate to those on the fence about ISIL or worried about “western imperailism.” Part of that denial of a “imperialist” or “holy war” narrative is also the continued emphasis the United States is placing on ISIS not being “Islamic” and the United States not being at war with Islam. It is unlikely that this message would reach anyone in the conflict zone.

It may, however, be for those in Western Nations or more stable neighbors to the conflict who would follow ISIL’s new social media campaign into the maw of jihad, as Anwar al-Alwaki convinced some westeners to do.


Some will argue with the strategy itself, as well as the accuracy/value of allusions to Somalia and Yemen (as I sit here watching talking heads on CNN), but as a piece of stand-alone strategic communication for the plan being put forward, the speech was a straight-forward. It clearly illustrates the reasons the US is engaged with ISIL and the commitment of the US to its own safety, as well as a commitment to allies -willing- to commit to their own safety,

Few communications are more “strategic” than those that come from the Bully Pulpit, and this was a solid piece of that kind of communication. Whether this 80’s classic of “Hold on Loosely, But Don’t Let Go,” is right plan for the US? That is for us to argue and, as time goes on, see.

Matthew Hipple is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content and an officer in the United States Navy. His opinions do not reflect those of the US Government, Department of Defense, or US Navy – even if they ARE very good opinions.

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