Taming the Cobra

Meteorology Rules

 

Taming the Cobra

An interesting post on gCaptain for professional mariners as we enter hurricane season proposes an update to the Mariner’s 1-2-3 Rule

I admit that unlike its 3-2-1 Rule brother for operating with aircraft carriers, I’d never heard of the 1-2-3 Rule. Most of the hurricane tracking, forecasting, and avoidance in the U.S. Navy is distributed to ships  by the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center in Monterey in conjunction with Fleet Weather Centers Norfolk and San Diego, established in 2010 to consolidate weather services for their respective U.S. fleets (2nd, 4th, and 6th from Norfolk, the rest from San Diego). Officer training focuses on interpreting and using the distributed products rather than understanding how they were developed, but a fundamental education in basic meteorology and oceanography is still taught as part of required naval science courses. 

As it should be. While thanks to satellite imagery, much more accurate weather reporting, and advances in communication technology we’re unlikely to see a repeat of the Cobra Typhoon disaster in World War II (picture above), understanding the seas plays an important role in things such as predicting the range of pirate skiff attacks.

Gibraltar

Parallel Rocks

Civilian authorities spot a foreign fishing vessel trawling their nation’s territorial waters. The authorities move to intercept but are held at bay by the offending vessel’s government escorts. The scene: Gibraltar. The actors: The U.K. and Spain.

As readers of this blog know, stand-offs over fishing rights and territorial disputes have made a lot of news of late when they occur between China and its Asian neighbors. But they don’t happen solely in the Pacific.

The long-running territorial dispute between Spain and the U.K. over the famous gateway to the Mediterranean has grabbed headlines locally in recent weeks as Spanish trawlers have twice fished in Gibraltar’s territorial waters while Spanish Civil Guardia vessels escorted the vessels.

According to the BBC, in the latest incident four police vessels and a British Royal Navy patrol boat intercepted a single trawler but did not attempt to board the vessel as it was shadowed by two Civil Guardia vessels. Spokesman for the Royal Gibraltar Police, Richard Ullger, said “we avoid active enforcement because it could provoke an incident.” Yet the captain of the Spanish trawler, Francisco Gomez, highlighted the tenseness of the confrontation claiming the vessels were so close that some of the hulls scraped each other. After 6 hours the vessel left. The Royal Gibraltar Police will issue a court summons for the crew, but it is not expected that they will appear in court.

In light of the incident a Member of the European Parliament for Gibraltar, Julie Girling warned, “What we don’t want in Gibraltar is a situation like the Falklands: there seem to be disturbing parallels in attempts to damage the livelihoods of Gibraltar’s fishermen.”

These are not The Rocks you're looking for

Girling was of course referring to the current situation in the Falkland’s, not the situation preceding the 1982 war. Yet a comparison between Gibraltar, the Falklands (then and now), and the South China Sea yields interesting insights.

In all three locales, resources contained therein play a role in pushing confrontation. In the South China Sea, rich fishing banks and oil exploration are primary causes for the scramble for territory. In Gibraltar, resources are not really the prize (besides for the local small-scale fishing operations) – the fishing expeditions merely provide a convenient means for pushing the larger territorial claim. Resources didn’t play much part sparking the Falklands War, but today many believe the resurgence of Argentine clamor for the islands is due to the potential oil reserves and fishing that invigorated the islands since the war. Today, the U.K. claims harassment of its own boats in Falklands water by Argentine coast guard vessels.

With regards to both the Chinese and Spanish fishing vessels, one of the more interesting questions is whether it is fishermen or government officials who are the driving force for journeys into contested waters. Are the maritime officials simply assisting their citizens in pursuit of excellent fishing grounds, or are they providing safety to vessels recruited and sent forward in calculated moves? How high in the government do such sensitive expeditions need approval?

The strategic value of these bits of territory also plays a role in their attraction. Gibraltar, dominating the chokepoint between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, also oversees much traffic that heads through the Suez Canal. Islands in the South China Sea sit astride trade routes vital for many economies, and can serve as forward operating bases or logistics and communications relays. The only exception is the Falklands, despite one Argentine paper’s claim at the time of the war that the islands were “strategically important because they were on a direct maritime route to India.”

Another Rock with a contested past

One of the most important distinctions between the South China Sea and the other two instances is that of self-determination. On the issue of sovereign control of territory, international law, international institutions, and disinterested intentional sentiment routinely come down on the side of the principle of self-determination. In Gibraltar the locals have voted in referendums for continued British rule (by 98.9% in 2002). The British meanwhile say they are open to a UN-sponsored referendum in the Falklands, where a similar result is likely, and tellingly it’s an offer the Argentines ignore. This makes it hard for Argentina or Spain to rally legal or global public opinion to their side. The difference for the South China Sea islands is that by and large there are no locals. Most of the bits of territory are tiny non self-sustainable pieces of rock or submerged reef, making resolution harder.

Of these points of conflict, the only that so far turned into a shooting war in modern times was the Falklands. In that case the dictatorship generated a nationalist distraction from a plummeting economy. As smarter people than me have said, this is one good reason no one should wish for the Chinese economy to slow precipitously. While Spain and Argentina today are in their own economic messes, both have the safety valve and check on their actions of democracy.

The good news is that the most common denominator in all of these cases is at least lip service towards peaceful resolution. Despite the nationalist push for the Falklands, President Cristina Kirchner has stated she will obtain the islands only through peaceful means. Foreign ministers of Spain and Britain met Tuesday and urged a peaceful resolution to the fishing issue. In Cambodia the defense secretaries of China and Philippines did the same on the same day.

One final thought. All of this shows the importance of coastal patrol forces, including those administered by civilian agencies, and that they can be used for either defensive or offensive strategic-level maneuvers. Interesting then to see that the Chinese ship construction buildup is not in naval forces alone – the Chinese Maritime Surveillance agency will commission 36 cutters in the next 3 years. (h/t CGblog)

Standing at the Crosswalk: Memorial Day

Standing in uniform at a crosswalk, fruitlessly mashing the “Press to Cross” button, I felt unsettled. I have less a “belief” in crosswalks than an occasional passing superstition. I’m the type who thinks right-of-way means it’s my right for you to get out of the way, whether I’m on foot or behind the wheel. Why should a uniform cause me to use the push-button placebo? I realized that my simple unwillingness to jaywalk in uniform represented one of the greatest pillars of our national security: our military’s ingrained subservience to and respect for civilian control.

The defense of the realm is more than facing down external threats; the cornerstone of a healthy military is subservience to the population it defends. Western nations have long taken this relationship for granted, with law-abiding militaries obedient to civilian leadership and observant of civil codes. However from the Balkans to Burma, we have witnessed unspeakable devastation when the military wing serves itself. Be it institutional military control of industries in Indonesia or the individual sobels of Sierra Leone, the corruption of the military is arguably more rule than exception. When the madcap dictator rolls out elaborate medals, titles, and military accoutrements, he’s attempting to enshrine his legitimacy in supposed military prowess, ensuring the military becomes a force to be served rather than serve.

In the United States, our tradition goes beyond mere obedience to civilians; we cringe at even inconveniencing them. With the Third Amendment, “no soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law,” our military was founded on principles not just for defending the nation but also minimizing the impact on the lives of citizens. In a less dramatic example, one need merely try convincing a Normandy veteran to go to the head of the grocery line. They’ll resist your polite offer as hard as they resisted the Germans. Our military institutions have instilled at the core of our pride a selflessness that has been the guarantor of our military’s loyalty and good conduct, and this nation’s stability.

However, the unwillingness to walk out into the crosswalk represents in a small way our veterans humble unwillingness to step out into the spotlight for themselves. Many complain that Memorial Day has lost its meaning, that a day dedicated to our fallen and our veterans has become National Grill Day. I would argue that there is no better tribute to the success of their battles than the nation’s families joyfully gathered together, blissfully ignorant of the horrors of war. That is what these men fought for. That said, many may not realize that we lost the last veteran or WWI this year. It is a timely reminder that the human link to history won’t last forever. With fallen who cannot speak for themselves and veterans too humble to take their due credit, it falls upon us to bring their remembrance into the celebration. Memorial day is not a mourning of those who have fought and those who have been lost, it is a celebration of what they have gained us. They’ve already done their job, now its time to do ours.

Fishing for Trouble

Northern Hospitality

Fishing for trouble?

While some adversaries come to the aid of each others’ mariners in distress, some supposed friends have squabbled over claims of officially hostaged fishermen. A good Washington Post article details the fate of Chinese fishermen who ran afoul of the North Korean navy with new interviews from those aboard. While it isn’t clear whether the fishermen were illegally poaching in North Korean waters, their treatment at the hands of a purported ally is markedly different from that they’ve received in recent similar disputes with Japanese and Filipino authorities, among others.

 

Significantly, the hostile reaction of the Chinese public towards North Korea in this incident mirrors the online anger that erupted against the Philippines earlier this month over the Scarborough Shoal stand-off. As can be expected, the indignity voiced is especially acute for the fact that the two nations are often considered each others closest allies. Said one Chinese internet-user: “We raised a dog to watch the door, but were bitten by the crazy dog!”

 

However, few experts believe this latest row is likely to shake an alliance cemented more for fear of the second-order consequences of a collapse in the North and strategic reasons than an enduring affinity between the two people.

Maersk-Texas-669321

Maersk Texas Attacked

The Maersk Texas repelled a pirate attack on Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman around noon local time, before continuing on its voyage to the U.S.:

Maersk Line, Limited confirms its U.S. flag vessel, Maersk Texas, thwarted an attack by multiple pirate skiffs at noon local while transiting the Gulf of Oman, northeast of Fujairah.  All hands onboard are safe and unharmed, and the vessel is proceeding on its voyage. Numerous skiffs with armed men in each boat quickly closed on Maersk Texas. Maersk Texas activated defensive measures per the U.S. Coast Guard-approved Vessel Security Plan. Despite clear warning signals, the skiffs continued their direct line toward Maersk Texas and the embarked security team fired warning shots. The pirates then fired upon Maersk Texas, and the security team returned fire per established U.S. Coast Guard rules of engagement.

Of particular note:

Many small craft and fishing boats were in the area and were not involved in the incident.

According to gCaptain the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence issued a warning for the area following the attack, and while it doesn’t specifically mention the Maersk Texas, seemed to indicate that pirates may be using “white” merchant traffic to blend in and disguise their presence:

Merchant vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Somali Basin are advised to maintain vigilance against and report abnormal or atypical small boat behavior, to include potential surveillance. This includes merchant vessels at anchorage either in or near territorial waters. Merchant vessels are encouraged to differentiate between fishing vessels from potential bad actors intertwining themselves within legitimate fishing activity. If fishing gear or actual fishing activity is not observed, take all appropriate counter-piracy and force protection measures to prevent piracy, illegal boardings, and/or waterborne attacks. In accordance with Best Management Practices (BMP), please maintain communications with UKMTO and report any abnormal incidents.

The incident is also notable due to early rumors surrounding the attack, including on one hand that up to 20 skiffs took part in the engagement, and on the other, according to EU NAVFOR, that there were no pirates.

The response to the incident is also a sign of the strength of the spirit of international maritime cooperation in the region. While HMAS Melbourne launched a helicopter to aid the Maersk Texas, it was beat out by the Iranian navy, which was the first to respond to the ship’s distress call. ThinkProgress states that the Iranians “offered guidance to the crew of the ship by radio,” (but was never physically on scene).

Although the value or necessity of this guidance is debatable given the Maersk Texas’ on-board security team and U.S. Coast Guard transit preparations, the symbolism of the assistance comes at an opportune time for Iran, in the midst of another round of nuclear talks. Like the U.S. Navy’s earlier rescue of Iranian fishermen this year, this episode demonstrates that the shared value of aid to mariners in distress at sea can help humanize some of the most wary of adversaries.

A final interesting tidbit from gCaptain:

Maersk Line, Limited reportedly employs Trident Group security teams onboard their vessels, the same group shown in a viral video shooting “warning shots” at approaching pirate skiffs.  If it was a Trident team on the vessel, we know there is some video of the attack that will likely be reviewed, and up to Maersk on whether or not it will be released.

An Influence Squadron in the Making?

Commander Henry Hendrix’s Proceedings article “Buy Fords, Not Ferraris” has entered the canon of innovative naval concepts and has received extensive attention at Information Dissemination and elsewhere. One idea from his article: influence squadrons, or a group of ships centered around an amphibious flagship and emphasizing smaller, networked platforms to conduct presence operations, theater security cooperation, and irregular warfare.

Over at ID, Commander Chris Rawley just wrote about testing distributed maritime operations using UAVs which will become unemployed as operations in Afghanistan wind down. Though he focuses on the aviation side of the house, he does mention surface vessels:

Some of the goals of these [distributed operations] battle exercises would be to…

 

  • Develop ways to employ smaller ships as forward arming, refueling, and communications relays for these aircraft.
  • Employ the above concepts with various deployed nodes of special operations forces, Marine, and NECC elements, in an effort to understand the capabilities and limitations each of these units brings to the distributed littoral fight.

Undersecretary Bob Work spoke at a CATO Institute event yesterday (h/t CDR Salamander) regarding the future of the Navy’s surface fleet. While LCS dominated the discourse as usual, I found two of his slides very interesting and no one seems to be talking about them:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To me, this looks like an “influence squadron” in the making. Take an LPD-17, a Burke-class DDG, two LCSs, and embark 4 Mk VI PBs in the well deck, combined with manned and unmanned aircraft from all ships and you’ll get a credible influence squadron. I could see a group of such ships and aircraft operating in the waters near Indonesia, other Pacific Islands, or the Straits of Malacca. This would be ideal for presence operations, HA/DR, capacity building for low-capability partners, theater security cooperation or – with the support of additional combatants – enforcing a blockade.  And to CDR Rawley’s point, can these vessels support a small UAV? Now seems the time to put such a group together and see what it can do – and it seems like the Navy’s senior leaders are thinking the same.

I had never heard of the Mark VI program until watching Secretary Work’s presentation, but I am very interested to know more. I’ve seen amphibs embark Riverine Command Boats and am curious how this program is related, if at all. Google results were nil after a few searches – can anyone with the gouge on this craft post to comments?

Finally, what is remarkable about this is that in only three years after CDR Hedrix’s article went to press, the Navy seems like it is seriously considering the implications of this radically different kind of deployment scheme. Though it may not seem fast to some, I think that compared to other historical shifts, the exploration of influence squadrons has occurred rather quickly.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or any other agency.

A Meet-Up

Friends,
If you happen to be in the DC area this Thursday (May 24th) we’ll be hosting an informal happy hour at the Old Dominion Brewhouse at 6pm. This will be a good way to put some faces to names and exchange ideas about our new endeavor or just chat over a beer and cheap sushi (always the best kind, right?).
Here’s the address:
1219 9th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Metro stop: Mt. Vernon Sq/Convention Center)
And website:
Hope to see you there!
Sincerely,
Scott