Breaking The Bottleneck: Maritime Terrorism and “Economic Chokepoints” (part 1)

By Andrew Walker

“Despite the inherent challenges, al-Qaeda can attack, has attacked, and will again attack maritime targets.  Indications point to an acceleration of the pace of maritime terrorism, heralding a coming campaign. The propensity of al-Qaeda for patient and intricate preparation augurs a future sustained maritime terrorism campaign, rather than a continued irregular pattern of attacks” - (Ret) Captain Jim Pelkofski (Joint Operations Directorate at US Fleet Forces Command; Current Pentagon Force Protection Agency’s director of anti-terrorism and force protection)

The American naval historian and strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914) claimed in his Influence of Sea Power on World History that strong naval and commercial fleets are essential to the nation’s military power. In a post September 11th society, governments have dedicated heavy resources to assessing the vulnerability of their homelands to acts of terrorism. The number of terrorist attacks in the maritime environment is proportionally small in comparison to the overall number. However, (Ret) Admiral Sir Alan West, The UK’s First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff deemed maritime terrorism “a clear and present danger” that may “potentially cripple global trade and have grave knock-on effects on developed economies.” The probability of a terrorist attack on a major North American port may be low for some security analysts, but given the catastrophic effect an attack via improvised explosive devices (IEDs), hijacking and using a ship as a weapon, or biological weapons could have on such “economic chokepoints,” significant focus must be placed on the subject.

As 95 percent of all global trade is shipped on water, great effort have been made to ensure that the maritime shipping system is as open and fluid as possible to guarantee a healthy and growing global economy. Ironically, the measures put in place to maintain an efficient maritime transport system also allow for glaring security gaps to be exploited by terrorist groups.

Major global trade routes and geographic chokepoints.

 

Historical Precedence

The bulk of historical analysis and research performed on maritime shipping has revolved around the risks that encompass containerized shipping, the likelihood of an attack on a shipping vessel, and the potential outcomes of these attacks. What complicates the assessment of potential attacks is the fact that there are seemingly countless avenues upon which to mount an operation; for example, attacks may range from the contamination of physical cargo on a vessel with biological or nuclear materials to the shipping of goods in order to finance terrorist activities. As such, maritime infrastructure and systems are both targets of, and potential shuttles for, maritime terrorism. Paramount to the study of an attack on the maritime trade industry is the understanding that an attack on a major port or shipping route could incapacitate the global economy.

The most notable historical examples of maritime terrorism come from the attacks on the USS Cole and the MV Limburg.

USS Cole

On October 12, 2000, while refueling in harbor in the Yemeni port of Aden, the USS Cole was the target of an al-Qaeda suicide attack delivered by a small vessel filled with explosives. Seventeen sailors were killed, and 39 were injured, making it the deadliest attack against the US Navy since Iraq struck the USS Stark in 1987. Through careful planning, al-Qaeda developed substantial on-shore infrastructure in order to train for the attack, ensuring training grounds were surrounded by fencing in order to shield the illicit activities from neighbours. Furthermore, al-Qaeda rented a harbor-front property to act as an observation post. Learning from past foundational mistakes of the failed January 3, 2000 attempt on the USS The Sullivans, where the explosives-heavy boat sank almost immediately upon launch, al-Qaeda properly modified the new suicide-vessel, painted it, laid a new floor, and refitted the insulation. The important lesson to derive from this attack was that al-Qaeda would learn to rehearse their operations, ensure their vessels had the appropriate arms, and would even conduct test runs, learning from past operational failures.

MV Limburg

The attack on the  MV Limburg was an act of opportunity, as the initial plan targeted a US warship that did not arrive as expected. On October 6, 2002, two years after the attack on the USS Cole, the Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) weighing 300,000 dead weight tons (DWT) with a 2.16 million barrel capacity (carrying roughly 397,000 barrels from Iran to Malaysia) was unexpectedly attacked. The explosives-laden dinghy rammed into the starboard side of the tanker and caused extreme environmental and economic damage. Although the attack on the Limburg only resulted in one death, it caused insurance rates of Yemeni shippers to rise 300 percent and cut Yemeni port shipping volumes by 50 percent for a month after the attack. Consequentially, the attack caused the short-term collapse of shipping in the Gulf of Aden, ultimately costing Yemen to lose $3.8 million a month in port revenues. Additionally, the Limburg would spill 90,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf of Aden, causing great damage to the surrounding maritime environment. On a relatively small scale, the economic impact of the Limburg attack served as an indicator of the widespread effects an attack on maritime trade can have.

Rescue vessels attempt to contain the fire on MV Limburg.

Supporting the contention that most terrorist groups are not “innovative but imitative,” often learning through emulation and technology transfer, the attack on the USS Cole can be seen as a copycat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) May 4, 1991 attack on Abheetha, a Sri Lankan Navy supply ship. Given the devastating impact of the attack on the Limburg, it came as no surprise when the documents seized during the May 2, 2011 Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan indicated that bin Laden and other senior al-Qaeda leaders had developed future plans to hijack oil tankers and blow them up at sea, aiming to harm the American economy in a period of already soaring oil prices.

Since 2004, actions have been implemented, predominantly through the International Maritime Organization, to limit the threats to notable security gaps in the maritime shipping system. Still, numerous openings exist, such as America’s priority on securing its Naval vessels rather than its comparatively unprotected shipping industry and the lack of communication between ports regarding cargo inspections. Although the measures in place to ensure a safe and functioning shipping network come at a high price, the meticulous preparation of modern terrorists, the variety of targets, and the catastrophic effects an attack on an “economic chokepoint” could have should provide substantial motivation to ensure that all bases are covered.

Choke Points

Although geographical bottlenecks or ‘chokepoints’ like the Straits of Malacca leave shipping vessels susceptible to attack, ports are the real ‘chokepoints’ in global trade.

Consider these facts, vessels as large as 5,000 TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent) currently call Halifax to take advantage of the deep draft and easy year round access to port. Halifax is ideally located as the first port inbound to North America from Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Suez Canal; it is also the last port outbound from North America.

As various shipments reach the Canadian port, Halifax then acts as the strategic rail gateway to key Canadian, U.S., and Mexican markets.

The ports of Halifax and Prince Rupert are both extremely important to the economic well-being of North America.

 Citing the historical evolution of maritime terrorism, and the internal growth and preparation of organizations such as al-Qaeda, assessing port security vulnerabilities would serve as a prudent insurance policy.

A troubling reality is that the direct and indirect violence caused by such an event would be difficult to quantify due to the extremely far reaches of the maritime trade network. One thing is for certain; the cost of inaction would be unquestionably greater than the current funding efforts to secure global ports[1].

This “Primer” serves as the introductory piece on a series concerning Maritime Terrorism in a North American context. As such a strategically important environment, the debate between the importance of economic fluidity and homeland security in the maritime domain must continue…
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[1] Since 2004, port-related security costs in the United States have been estimated at roughly 2 billion (USD). Although it is difficult to fully measure the costs of further developing maritime port security. (OECD)

This article was first published on the website of the Atlantic Council of Canada’s: http://atlantic-council.ca/publications/theme/maritime-security/

About the Author, Andrew Walker

Andrew Walker is a Maritime Security Analyst with the Atlantic Council of Canada. He is a recent graduate of Dalhousie University’s History and Political Science program, where he focused on Cold War History and International Security. Through this appointment, Andrew hopes to develop his skills in the fields of maritime security and intelligence studies, focusing in particular on maritime terrorism, homeland defence, and economic “choke points”. Any views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and the news agencies and do not necessarily represent those of the Atlantic Council of Canada. This article is published for information purposes only.

The Puntland Marine Police Force: munificent benefactors apply within.

James Bridger at CSIS

The Puntland Marine Police Force: munificent benefactors apply within.

I had the pleasure of last week meeting one of our newest members, James Bridger, who spear-headed our partnership with the Atlantic Council of Canada. He was in town for a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) panel discussion on piracy, and the video is now available. If you’re interested in shore-based approaches to the problem and the influence of international politics and organizations on the reports, funding, and arms flow into the region, then it makes for an intriguing view. James is wearing his patented CIMSEC skinny tie:

The Sublime Porte Takes the Lead

Goose isn’t available, Syria. Meet Turkey.

In a surprise move, Turkey has aggressively taken the lead in what seemed a stalemate over Syria. While Bashir Al-Assad has announced his country is at war, his observation might be more accurate than he is comfortable with. Following Syria’s encore performance of shooting at Turkish F-4′s, Ankara has decided to remind the world that the “sick man of Europe” has been in the gym for a long LONG time.

With unconfirmed reports of Turkish units moving to the Syrian border, Turkey is poised to take the lead on a NATO mission no one has wanted to touch. Turkey taking the reins shows optimism for future potential on NATO’s heart monitor. NATO is not merely a support structure for US operations abroad, but as indicated by Turkey’s actions, an institution by which any member state can take the lead on security issues no matter how feckless the majority.

Turkey has been sitting on the periphery for a long time. The nation many dismissed as a NATO ornament and an EU impossibility has proven itself an economic powerhouse, a political leader, and now a military spearhead. “Everybody should know that Turkey’s wrath is just as strong and devastating as its friendship is valuable,” said President Erdogan. With the speed and rigor of the Turkish response both politically and militarily, perhaps the long-ago sick man of Europe will become its backbone.

More Mahan and Corbett

The Battle of the Nile, 1798

In my last post I criticized those who overemphasize the size of a fleet as a measure of its operational effectiveness, using the historical example of the Royal Navy’s fleet modernization efforts prior to the First World War.  I did not offer any alternate criteria by which to judge what an optimally sized U.S. Navy would look like.  With discussions of what insights turn-of-the-century theorists such as Alfred Thayer Mahan and Julian Corbett would have on modern maritime strategy so popular right now, however, I thought there might be value to apply their models of sea power to evaluate the composition of today’s U.S. Navy.

Responding to a critique that the current fleet is the smallest it has been since 1917, Under-Secretary of the Navy Robert Work noted that the ability of the current fleet to accomplish its missions is as great as it has ever been, arguing that at a century ago “we didn’t have any airplanes in the fleet.  We didn’t have any unmanned systems.  We didn’t have Tomahawk cruise missiles.”

Critics of what they perceive as a too-small fleet claim that quantity is important because “presence” is necessary for command of the sea.  On its face this is logical, as without enough combat power at the right spot and right time, victory is impossible.  Having more ships makes it theoretically possible to concentrate a larger force at the decisive point, as well as providing more resources in more places to deter against the enemy, wherever they may be.  The only restriction in a navy’s ability to provide presence is the amount of resources that a state has at its disposal.

Mahan was opposed to any notion of presence itself providing any particular utility, expressing a preference for offensive fleet action, even when that end was accomplished by a fleet inferior in total size to that of its foes.  His optimal navy was “equal in number and superior in efficiency” to its enemies at the decisive point within “a limited field of action,” not necessarily everywhere.  It protected national interests “by offensive action against the fleet, in which it sees their real enemy and its own principal objective.”  Mahan would have not approved of an emphasis on presence as an objective, for his description of the undesirable alternative to his above strategy was one which requires the “superior numbers” needed to provide “superiority everywhere to the force of the enemy actually opposed, as the latter may be unexpectedly reinforced.”  Trying to outnumber the enemy everywhere at sea is an impossible end state in any situation in which a pair of opponents have remotely comparable resources upon which to draw.

Corbett’s view of sea power is more compatible with the notion that presence is important.  Corbett felt that what he called “Command of the Sea” was “normally in dispute” and that the most common state in maritime conflict was that of “an uncommanded sea.”  In that context, presence in terms of more ships means that a navy can employ its forces in more places, with command thus achieved.  It would be easier to achieve this state of command through presence in asymmetrical situations in which the smaller force is overmatched both in terms of quantity and quality.

War at sea often revolves around two factors: the ability to locate the enemy, and the ability to employ decisive force against the enemy first.  Until navies began to use aircraft in the early twentieth century, the only way to locate an enemy fleet was to actually see it from onboard ship (or ashore).  Until the introduction of wireless communications, the ability to pass any intelligence thus derived was also restricted to line-of-sight or the speed of a ship.  Mahan noted the difficulty to locate and track a fleet when he said that they “move through a desert over which waters flit, but where they do not remain.”

By having more ships (assuming they effectively employed them), a navy would theoretically have a better chance to locate the enemy on favorable terms.  Nelson could sail across the Atlantic (and back again) and around the Mediterranean without finding the French fleet because his “sensors” were limited to the visual range of his fleet.  The conflict between the German and British navies during the First World War was largely one in which the two fleets were unable to achieve their tactical objectives because they could not find each other (at least under tactically favorable circumstances).  In a more modern example, the American victory at Midway was made possible by SIGINT.  Because the US Navy knew that the Japanese intended to attack Midway, its fleet was placed in a position where they were more likely to find the Japanese first (even then however, each fleet was limited in their ability to locate the enemy to the range of their aircraft).

A smaller fleet which is enabled in its ability to project combat power over a larger area through technology to engage the enemy on its own terms would seem to be just as important as a large fleet.  Today’s U.S. Navy, with access to a historically unprecedented web of information made possible by sensors and surveillance assets in the air, on the surface and under the water, has the ability to win battles against a capable enemy because those sensors mean it can deliver ordnance against enemy targets first.  However, one of the more astute criticisms of Under-Secretary Work’s defense of the current fleet size is that it only works in war, not other situations in which it is not clear “whether replacing ships with aircraft is a legitimate approach towards maritime battlespaces in peacetime when that same effort has been largely ineffective dealing with other low intensity maritime problems like narcotics and piracy.” 

The debate over presence revolves around strategy and objectives, and whether the size and composition of a fleet matches up with those objectives.  If the U.S. maritime objective is the ability to operate at sea in any contested theater, then having a sensor-enabled battle force in which surveillance assets make decisive action possible before the enemy can act is more important than surface presence in terms of many ships.  Conversely, if the most important objective is to provide maritime security against illicit actors such as pirates or drug smugglers, then presence is more important.  As the linked post above from Galrahn notes, a UAV can enable kinetic offensive operations from another platform located far away, but it cannot board a suspect vessel and detain the crew.

The debate between the advocates of presence and a high-end battle force is actually one over the relative importance of the Maritime Security and Sea Control missions, and the resources devoted to each at the expense of the other.  Unfortunately, without a crystal ball, there is not a straightforward answer as to which is the more necessary one for the US Navy to conduct.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence Officer and currently serves 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 U.S. Government.

“Time Macho”

Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter has garnered record-setting attention for her Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” While primarily addressing women, I thought her piece also captured  the essence of changes occurring in men; many men my age do think more about so-called “work-life” balance than the men of generations past. When we have families, we want to be present to coach softball, catch the school play, or help with homework. Prof. Slaughter rightly points beyond gender to a generational shift in the prioritization of family life against a career.

Regardless of gender, though, her description of “time macho” professions – those that prize the expenditure of time as a measure of commitment and performance – is spot-on and should strike a chord with those of a naval persuasion:

Back in the Reagan administration, a New York Times story about the ferociously competitive budget director Dick Darman reported, “Mr. Darman sometimes managed to convey the impression that he was the last one working in the Reagan White House by leaving his suit coat on his chair and his office light burning after he left for home.” (Darman claimed that it was just easier to leave his suit jacket in the office so he could put it on again in the morning, but his record of psychological manipulation suggests otherwise.)

 

The culture of “time macho”—a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you—remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today. Nothing captures the belief that more time equals more value better than the cult of billable hours afflicting large law firms across the country and providing exactly the wrong incentives for employees who hope to integrate work and family. Yet even in industries that don’t explicitly reward sheer quantity of hours spent on the job, the pressure to arrive early, stay late, and be available, always, for in-person meetings at 11 a.m. on Saturdays can be intense. Indeed, by some measures, the problem has gotten worse over time: a study by the Center for American Progress reports that nationwide, the share of all professionals—women and men—working more than 50 hours a week has increased since the late 1970s.

I know that naval officers, particularly those wearing black shoes out there, recognize the concept of “time macho” instantly.  What’s less clear is how to change this culture to accommodate a new generation of naval professionals who think about work and family differently than those of the past. To begin, we must recognize that long hours will never go away completely – I believe that one reason the military is a time macho organization is because it truly wants to provide the most value for the American taxpayer. Sometimes this requires sacrifice. There is a difference between complaining about the demands of military service and seeking ways to allow all of us to spend more time with those that we love. I remember my first Captain’s unconventional take on the familiar list of naval priorities, “ship, shipmate, self.” He said that this concept was sound, but that sometimes you have to take care of yourself in order to maximize your ability to serve the ship. This kind of thinking is what I’m talking about.

As such, I think it will become increasingly important for leaders to weigh judiciously the likely value to be found in burning the lamps late. They will have to recognize that flexible work schedules may likely incentivize quicker accomplishment of tasks; Prof. Slaughter rightly notes that  simply knowing that she was going to work late made her less efficient. Finally, as an organization which values technology, the Navy should seek ways to allow Sailors to work remotely at seagoing commands as it has done on shore stations.

What do you think? What can the Navy do to become less “time macho?”

LT Kurt Albaugh is President of the Center for International Maritime Security, a Surface Warfare Officer and Instructor in the Naval Academy’s English Department. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

PMPF_Camp

Shore-based Counter-Piracy in Peril

Who will keep the lights on?

Just as independent analysts and pirates themselves attest to the impact the Puntland Marine Police Force is having on piracy in northern Somalia, pushing bosses from their bases and offering a shore-based solution nearly everyone says is needed, Robert Young Pelton of Somalia Report details the program’s backers, the UAE, has suddenly halted funding (h/t James Bridger):

Around one hundred mostly African and South African expats and their approximately 800 Somali Marines of the Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF) were left stranded with no cash for food, fuel or salaries.

Back at the PMPF base, just west of Bosaso airport, there now sits millions of dollars in heavy construction equipment, fixed and rotary wing aircraft, ocean-going ships, RHIBs, heavy transport trucks and 4X4 vehicles that suddenly became idle.

This calls into question the plateau in pirate attacks in the first half of the year from the north of the country, as gains on the ground might be reversed with a let up in pressure. According to Somalia Report‘s article, the decision may have come as a result of pressure from the UN which has been critical of the program. Read the full article for speculation on the program’s future.

 

The announcement also comes on the heels of a report on the human cost of piracy by Oceans Beyond Piracy with a telling rundown of numbers. The following analysis is from gCaptain:

The report found that a total of 3,863 seafarers were fired upon by Somali pirates, down 8% from 2010.  Of those, 968 came in close contact with armed pirates who were able to board their vessels and a total of 413 of them were rescued from citadels by naval forces.

 

A standout number in the report was that the number of seafarers taken hostage in 2011 dropped by 50% with a total of 555, most likely driven by increased security measures taken by crews including the use of  armed.  In 2010 a total of 1,090 had been taken hostage.

 

The report adds that a total of at least 1,206 hostages were held captive by Somali pirates in 2011, including the 555 seafarers who fell victim during 2011, 645 who were captured in 2010 and remained captive in 2011, and 6 tourists and aid workers kidnapped on land.  The report estimates that the average length of captivity was over 8 months, up 50% over 2010.

 

Tragically, 35 hostages died during 2011 including; 8 who were killed by pirates during an initial attack or after being taken captive; 8 died from disease or malnutrition while being held; and 19 died in crossfire while being used as human shields and during hostage rescue attempts.  Another 3 hostages died after release as a result of abuse they had suffered while in captivity.

 

In contrast, it is estimated that 111 pirates were killed in 2011 with 78 killed as a result of encounters with naval forces, 30 killed by fellow pirates, and 3 by Puntland police.

 

LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.
 
The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy. 

 

Who’ll get the Lion’s share?

In the last week, during a visit to the People’s Republic of China, Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng En Hen has reaffirmed bilateral military ties between the two countries with his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie. Since the Agreement on Defence Exchanges and Security Cooperation was signed in 2008, there have been regular exchanges between the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the People’s Liberation Army, port calls, joint courses, seminars, and a counter-terrorism exercise. But China is not the only suitor trying to woo the Lion City-state. Earlier this month, Mr Ng also met with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, with the two agreeing that America could deploy up to four Littoral Combat Ships out of Singapore on a rotational basis, with the first due to arrive in the second quarter of next year. In addition, its Changi naval base was designed from the outset to accommodate ships up to the size of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, way beyond the country’s own capabilities. With China becoming increasingly assertive towards its neighbours in the first island chain it see as its sphere of influence, followed by America’s pivot towards Asia in support of its regional allies and the advent of Air-Sea Battle to meet the Chinese threat, Singapore may be forced to choose between its two military partners.

Singapore’s Formidable-class stealth frigates – but which side could they end up on?

Though Singapore’s military relationship with the US stretches back further, the country has always had an ethnocentric strategic outlook. At the time of its secession from the Federation of Malaysia on 9 August 1965, Singapore only possessed around 1,000 armed servicemen. This and the republic’s small population of approximately four million, prompted Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to introduce national service from 14 March 1967. Another major factor behind this was that the majority of those personnel, particularly senior officers, we’re Malay and Indian. With Singapore having a Chinese majority population, and with Malaysia seen as the country’s main threat at the time, Malays were excluded from the draft for its first ten years as Chinese filled out the armed forces’ ranks and were swiftly promoted. Even when Malays were included after 1977, they were assigned to the police and civil defence, not combat roles. The Second Minister for Defence, Lee Hsien Loong, stated in 1987 that “If there is a conflict, if the SAF is called to defend the homeland, we do not want to put any of our soldiers in a difficult position where his emotions for the nation may be in conflict with his religion”. Singapore’s political leaders did not trust Malays to fight against their kith and kin. Should hostilities erupt between the United States and China, can Singapore’s Chinese-dominated armed forces be expected to do the same, and does America need to think more carefully about how far it enters into the Lion’s den?

Dr Daniel Owen Spence is Lecturer in Imperial and International History at Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom, and publishes on nineteenth and twentieth century maritime history.