MFP: Tough Choices For Small Navies

The following is a guest post inspired by the questions in our Maritime Futures Project.  For more information on the contributors, click here.  Note: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.

Any attempt to answer question #8 from the MFP faces a problem at a very beginning: If we focus on what should be but isn’t, we eventually risk ending up with a dream fleet disconnected from reality. However, if we focus on what is possible, we risk to be stuck in real-life constraints, unable to conceptualize the next stages of naval development. Therefore, if there appears some fantasy within the my answer below, it means that the right balance is still ahead of me.

Today’s Polish Navy is at the beginning of a modernization process, which assumes construction of conventional submarines, corvettes, patrol ships, mine-hunters, and ASW (anti-submarine warfare) helicopters among others. The dilemma the Navy faces is block obsolescence of most of its assets, which means setting priorities for modernization within the context of a national security strategy based on two pillars — defense of the country and commitment to alliances/cooperation in the field of broader international security.

There is another critical issue to address: Poland’s geo-strategic position and history favors strongly national defense but the same history says that in any serious conflict, the navy will play a rather secondary role. Consequently in cases of significant budget cuts, the choice is as follows:

  • The Navy would invest in submarines as a potent anti-access weapon; surface forces, so useful in maritime security cooperation, will suffer badly, or
  • The focus would be on surface combatants, with a risk of loosing competencies in the operating submarine force, which will be very difficult to reconstruct.

Alternatives offered for consideration would be sacrificing capabilities of larger submarines (interesting to note how the meaning of “large” differs between navies) and instead investing in smaller coastal boats like U210-Mod or Andrasta. Resulting savings should be secured for surface vessel program. That would allow the Navy to maintain its proficiency in the operating submarine force surface vessels fulfilled international obligations. Both pillars of the strategy therefore could be followed, albeit in sub-optimal way.

The surface warship best suited for the Polish or any other smaller navy is linked

Churchill asks, "Why make a battleship when you can build a carrier out of a glacier?"

Churchill asks, “Why make a battleship when you can build a carrier out of a glacier?”

closely to strategy, geography, and advances in technology. Operating in narrow or coastal water puts a premium on small combatants, but if the navy wants to be an active participant in alliances far afield, then demand for seakeeping and self-deployment puts a premium on much bigger ships, unless we accept advanced hull forms. The compromise could be a ship in a range of 2,000 tons. What is possible to achieve in terms of capabilities within such a hull? British naval architect D. K. Brown in his book The British Future Surface Fleet: Options for medium-sized Navies makes a remark about ships’ “unstable designs”. These are ships which are already too costly to be defenseless. Proceeding toward two opposite extreme solutions, one either makes ships cheaper or better arms them: “Chinese junk” or “super battleship”. In a big navy, problems translate to discussions about force structure or “Hi-Lo mix.” In smaller navies the first is useless and the latter is often unaffordable. Just for reference – the Polish Navy projected shipbuilding budget, considered by many as rather too optimistic, is below $300M a year.

The issue is more complicated by the fact that experience and history teaches militaries that any conflict can easily escalate into full-blown war. Therefore, in the case of “unstable design,” they are inclined more towards “super-battleship”, while treasuries driven by other needs and perceived lack of threat would often oppose it. In the past, the solution was to arm a flotilla with asymmetric weapons and make it dangerous for any opponent. This, however doesn’t allow a smaller navy to support effectively allied forces far from its own bases. The modern equivalent of a flotilla could be a sort collection or hybrid of corvette and Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs). If a ship would be more corvette than OPV depends on the threat perception and compromise between the Navy and treasury, within constraints of political, financial, technical, and operational environments. It is also Important to consider if the given country has a Coast Guard as a separate service or solely a Navy. Technically, corvettes and OPVs are very different ships; corvettes offer survivability and armament while OPVs offers endurance and low cost. One proposal would be to trade armament for a low-cost which results in light corvette or up-armed OPV. Another is to enhance OPV survivability, increasing the cost.

Why would anybody be interested in hybrids if well-established solutions exist? Because a corvette is dangerously close to the unstable design. The wartime evolution of the Flower-class corvette, symbol of simplicity and low costs, ended with the Loch-class being the best ASW performer of Royal Navy during the WWII but for the cost of Tribal fleet destroyers. If we take a look on LCS from that point of view, for the full cost including modules we can probably purchase a FREMM frigate. As there are limits to cutting cost, the natural tendency will be to arm the ship better. It would be interesting to speculate what a small navy would make of LCS, in that for many of them LCS would be a capital ship!

When your name is HMS DEVASTATION, you can carry whatever propulsion you want!

Predicting which technology will have the biggest impact in the future is practically impossible. Steam power implementation was discouraged by Royal Navy Admiralty. It gave freedom of movement at the cost of logistical complexity, completely changing operational patterns. Not surprisingly, there was strong resistance to such a big change of the status quo. However, what usually makes the big change is a coincidence of many developments rather than a single technology. All-big-gun ships and the long-range fire of Adm. Jacky Fisher would be of no great value without advances in fire control systems. Equally, steam power without coaling stations around the globe would be disastrous for British Empire protection. My preferred mix would consist of the old and the new — robotics with related artificial intelligence, modularity (with some reservations), and artillery.

Autonomous vehicles have spread rapidly, changing old habits. Its story resembles that of naval aircraft — from reconnaissance and scouting to attack roles. Not long ago, Tomahawks paved the way for manned aircraft attacks. Maybe in the future manned craft would lead swarms of robotic weapons, the human role to assess situations and make decisions on spot?

I expect modularity to be helpful in easing conflicting demands for many roles and tasks expected to be performed by a dearth of platforms. The smaller the navy is, the bigger problems seem. The Polish Navy plan calls for 3 corvettes, 3 patrol ships and 3 mine-hunters. That is all for defending the country and forward deployments. Modularity used by coastal navies should generate much less logistical burden if load-out changes were required between deployments and in proximity to bases. Modularity, however should be implemented cautiously; keep in mind the old truth that you have to fight with what you have at hand, not with what is in the logistical pipeline or on drawing boards. It is an important decision to choose what sets of armament and sensors should be fixed and what could be exchangeable.

Choosing artillery (naval gunnery) may be surprising, but a versatility which some see as surpassed may be restored by advances like Volcano ammunition or by electromagnetic gun. With ranges of fire in the order of 100nm, operations in narrow seas means that there will be cases when major naval bases of opponents will be within range of naval artillery. This should incentive us to study cases like the Soviet Baltic Fleet operating from Kronstadt/Leningrad during WWII. Eventually, it should trigger one’s imagination to ask how Royal Navy would handle the problem of Channel convoys if confronted by German long range artillery installed on French coasts, assuming the latter possesses guided munitions? I believe that for a small navy operating in narrow waters, the paradigm of “stand-off weapon” needs to be applied after careful examination, which leads us again to nothing new, but rediscovery of historic battles.

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland.  His area of interest is broad context of purpose and structure of Navy and promoting discussions on these subjects In his country

Human Smuggling Across the Gulf of Aden

Bodies of Asyluam Seekers Washed Ashore in Yemen

                                                     Bodies of Asylum Seekers Washed Ashore in Yemen

While Somali piracy may have been significantly down in 2012, another type of illicit activity in the Gulf of Aden has continued to increase.  According  to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 107,500 people fled Africa for Yemen via the sea in 2012.  This was an increase from 103,000 in 2011 and the most since these statistics were first collected in 2006.  The majority of the refugees in 2012 were Ethiopian, and they braved dangerous conditions which are estimated to have left at least 100 dead or lost at sea.

The growth in human smuggling over the last year was actually less than between 2010 and 2011, when the number of refugees crossing the Gulf increased from 53,000 to 103,000.  That growth has generally been attributed to the increasing number of Ethiopian migrants, which greatly outnumber all other nationalities.  Until 2009, most people smuggled across the Gulf were Somalis.

MFP: The Future of Piracy

By LCDR Claude Berube, USNR; LT Chad Hutchins, USN; and N.R. Jenzen-Jones

The following is a guest post inspired by the questions in our Maritime Futures Project.  For more information on the contributors, click here.  Note: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.

1. What manner of broad trends are emerging in pirate activities, and how will these develop in the future? Where will we see continued, increased, or emerging piracy over the next 5-10 years?

 

Piracy in the 21st Century: The Long Ladder Ahead

Piracy in the 21st Century: The Long Ladder Ahead

From a macro perspective, piracy will increase worldwide as western navies continue to contract in size and non-state actors become super-empowered.  Piracy will remain and even flourish in regions of diminished state maritime security caused by land-based conditions.  Half of the National Intelligence Council’s recent Global Trends 2030 top-ten countries of high-risk destabilized governments have significant coastlines – Niger, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, and Yemen.  Destabilized nations will offer opportunities to pirate criminal networks as state navies – particularly Western navies – do not have sufficient assets or comparative interests to exert necessary influence.  West Africa will pose a continuing challenge if steps are not taken to curb piracy in the region; significant national interests exist there for many nations, including the US, China, and many European nations.  Energy security will be a key factor in the decision to support counter-piracy strategies in West Africa.

Since its origins, four things have had to be present for piracy to exist: (1) Non-existent or weak government on land, (2) Ungoverned territorial seas, (3) Access to shipping lanes, and (4) Access to boats, manpower, and arms.  It’s important to continually watch any coastal nation which meets these criteria, no matter the size, for developing signs of pirate activity.

 

2. Which response strategies will best limit or curtail pirate activity over the next 5-10 years?

Specific to Somali piracy, current efforts – including coalition forces, independently operating platforms, industry employment of Best Management Practices, and the increased use of armed guards, have been sufficiently effective as evidenced by the decrease in attacks on commercial ships in the Gulf of Aden.  Continued success will however hinge on the sustained availability of coalition forces, which is in turn based on the comparative threats faced by participating states and the impact of their economies and debts to future military operations, acquisitions, and maintenance.  Because of the uncertainty of state naval presence, industry will either return to a pre-2008 level of ‘acceptance of risk’ in the region, turn increasingly to armed guards and other private sector capabilities, or rely more on alternative powers such as India and, especially, China. Broader, cooperative international engagement will be necessary. Land-based engagement strategies will also be increasingly important, but will be largely dependent on access, funding, and political will. The U.S. Department of State is beginning to move in this direction now.

 

3. Which vessels in Western navies should we be looking to for their utility in conducting counter-piracy operations?

 

Will the Coalition hold?

                          Will the Coalition hold?

Policymakers may ask if the best use of a billion dollar warship is as a platform against modern pirates.  While surface warships are a flexible asset, with helicopter detachments providing extended range and tactical small boats for boarding, they come at a price.  Depending on future budgets, Western navies could turn to smaller ships with UAVs or inexpensively modified commercial platforms.  The U.S. Navy, in concert with European navies, could explore building a piracy squadron of ships such as the Sea Fighter (FSF-1) to work in concert with a dedicated mothership.  Modular design of mission-specific ‘packages’ may provide another opportunity to decrease operating costs and use next-generation vessels more effectively.

 

4. What advice would you give to a smaller nation on the counter-piracy specific maritime investments it should pursue, and why?

Smaller nations in destabilized regions rarely have the economic capacity to support a viable counter-piracy force, leaving them with two options.  The first option is to work with larger nations interested in capacity building.  Larger nations and their industries have a need for stability on the high seas for global commerce.  There are a number of capability development programs offered by nations including the U.S. and China.  In Africa, in particular, programs such as African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP) and Africa Partnership Station (APS) have had some success, but need to be expanded and better integrated into the broader counter-piracy strategy.

 

The second option is to employ vetted, credible maritime security companies which may provide a less-expensive alternative in the long-term.  Maritime security companies have had some success in Africa, providing specific training and personnel where capability gaps exist.  Employing private companies allows countries to focus on nascent piracy, or threats such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing or oil bunkering, which may be considered less serious by major powers.  The use of private security companies is generally compatible with working with larger nations, and opportunities for third-party funding may arise in the future.

MFP 9: Final Predictions For The Future

Any final predictions?

This is the ninth and final regular post in our Maritime Futures Project.  For more information on the contributors, click here.  Note: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.

LT Drew Hamblen, USN:
Navy’s experiments with biofuels will fizzle out as an abundance of natural gas and crude oil prices it out of the market.

Felix Seidler, seidlers-sicherheitspolitik.net, Germany:

La Marinha do Brasil

                           La Marinha do Brasil

The international maritime security debate is dominated by U.S. future capabilities, European decline, and the Asian arms race – in particular China. Yet beyond that Brazil will be an interesting player. The country seems to pursue an ambitious fleet-building agenda. Moreover, Brazil trained China’s carrier pilots. With a mid- to long-term perspective, a Brazilian blue-water navy might go on expeditionary tours – not to win wars per se, but to take part in international operations or underline Brazil’s new geopolitical status. Why shouldn’t Brazilian and Chinese carriers visit each other’s countries to deepen political ties between both governments?

Bryan McGrath, Director, Delex Consulting, Studies and Analysis:
Most of my predictions will be wrong.

Sebastian Bruns, Fellow, Institute for Security, University of Kiel, Germany:
“A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”
- Attributed to Benazir Bhutto

CDR Chuck Hill, USCG (Ret.):
In the most likely conflicts, large numbers of vessels will be needed to perform blockade and marine policing to prevent use of the use of the seas for transport of weapons, supplies, and personnel. We will never have “enough.” The U.S. Coast Guard will be needed to supply some of them.

Biometrics, the ability to positively identify individuals, is already in use in counter-piracy operations and may become important in tracking down terrorists and agents in unconventional asymmetric conflicts.

States led by China will attempt to reinterpret the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to apply the restrictions and requirements of Innocent Passage to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as well as the Territorial Sea. Most important is Article 58 Section 3 of UNCLOS: “In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the EEZ, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.” China will interpret this to mean that anything other than expeditious transit including “spying,” “hovering,” flight ops, and submerged operations might be considered illegal.

LCDR Mark Munson, USN:

I see your EEZ is as big as mine.

                                                                            I see your EEZ is as big as mine.

The notion of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is not new (the formal definition of it extending out 200 nautical miles dates to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), but it seems to increasingly be at the heart of the various maritime disputes. China’s differences with its neighbors in the South and East China Seas revolve around the desire to secure control of underwater resources by maximizing its EEZ. In addition, China has advocated a state’s right to control or regulate the military activities of other states occurring in its EEZ. If accepted by the rest of the world (which most countries currently do not), such a notion would significantly impact the ability of states like the U.S. to operate forward at sea like it traditionally has. In addition, it is the realization of the negative impacts of a state’s inability to enforce activity in its EEZ (such as piracy in Somalia, maritime banditry and oil theft in the Gulf of Guinea) that has led many states to realize that capable maritime security forces are important, although they may not be able to afford them.

YN2(SW) Michael George, USN:
The U.S. Navy is a vital force in our nation’s defense and will continue to be vital to providing secure waterways around the world. But the fact that it is a national navy and not an international one will cause leaders in other countries to make greater efforts to become more self-reliant.

LT Jake Bebber, USN:
Few in the U.S. want war with China, and few in China want war with the U.S. That being said, the wisdom of the ancients suggests that we are on a collision course. 2,500 years ago, Thucydides wrote “The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon, made war inevitable.” Fear, power and interest, often involving third parties (see Corcyra in 440 B.C. or Japan today), drive nations to war, and human behavior remains largely unchanged over the last 5,000 years of recorded history, despite our fallacious belief in “progress.” War will come when it is most inconvenient, unexpected, dangerous, and costly – not when we are prepared.

LT Alan Tweedie, USNR:
DDG 1000 will cost even more than we expect and none of the three we are building will ever see 20 years of service life. Neither this ship nor anything else like it will be a part of our Navy’s future.

LT Scott Cheney-Peters, USNR:
These are a little further out in left field, and focus a bit more on geopolitics than the predictions made to earlier questions, so I fully expect them to make me look a bit ridiculous in the years ahead:

While much has been written about Brazil’s burgeoning economic power – slowing of late – and the nation’s drive to reinvigorate its naval capabilities, it will be Columbia and Mexico that surprise the Western Hemisphere’s observers with their growing naval clout. The focus of these nations’ fleets will also shift from the traditional hemispheric concerns to protecting trade ties to Africa and Asia. This is of course predicated on both countries’ ability to keep a lid on domestic discontent and violence while extending their economic booms. Other South American armadas – such as those of Peru, Uruguay, and Chile – will endeavor to maintain their small but professional capabilities, and undertake a similar drive (underway in many cases) to boost ties across the Pacific and Atlantic.

The leaders of both Cuba and Venezuela have not long to live, yet neither change at the top will mean much in terms of naval policy. Both nations may seek to defrost relations with the U.S. and strengthen integration in cooperative regional maritime efforts – although again, little change from now.

The professionalization of Africa’s maritime forces will continue apace in those nations enjoying peaceful transitions of government. Cooperative regional efforts will combat the threats of piracy, maritime robberies, and drug-running – but the dangers will continue at modest levels and readily flourish in any coastal power vacuum. Counter-drug ops will prove the hardest to due to pervasive levels of corruption in states such as Guinea-Bissau.

The Persian/Arabian Gulf will remain a tinderbox – not due to a looming confrontation with Iran, but because the Arab Spring has yet to fully play out on (or off the coast of) the Arabian Peninsula. I don’t presume to know the outcome or timeline, but escalating repression of the Shia majority in Bahrain could lead to untenable situation for the U.S. Fifth Fleet HQ, and/or a change of government.

Lastly, in Asia, the oft-overlooked Indonesia has the potential to develop into a naval power in its own right. The nation’s leadership has aspirations of becoming a key player in South Asia, and it will likely attempt to play the role of a non-aligned honest broker in any regional stand-off. If you’re looking for good coverage of Indonesia (and its ties with Australia), check out the sites Security Scholar and ASPI.

Of course, we could always just end up with this:

Simon Williams, U.K.:
Something this writer believes policy makers and the military should be mindful of in the coming decades will be the increasing significance of the maritime realm in dictating the machinations and dynamic of international relations. Not only are burgeoning economic powers in the Far East developing credible naval forces to guard their interests, but, having suffered a bloody nose in a protracted counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan, Britain and the United States will find it difficult to conjure up the public support for any ground operations in the near future.

LCDR Joe Baggett, USN:
No predictions – Just observations:
- In my opinion, the United States and its partners find themselves competing for global influence in an era in which they are unlikely to be fully at war or fully at peace.
- The security, prosperity, and vital interests of the United States are increasingly coupled to those of other nations.
- We must be as equally committed to preventing wars as we are to winning them.
- As ADM Locklear once said “I value surface forces that are:
1) Sufficient in number: you have to be there in order to make a difference
2) Capable, both offensively and defensively: our lethality must be compelling, and our presence re-assuring to our allies
3) Ready, both in proficiency to the full range of potential missions and in proximity to where they’re needed
4) Relevant: the right mix of the above factors to achieve the broad missions sets assigned.”

MFP 8: The Future of Small-Nation Maritime Forces

What advice would you give to a smaller nation on the maritime investments it should pursue, and why?

This is the eighth in our series of posts from our Maritime Futures Project.  For more information on the contributors, click here.  Note: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.

Simon Williams, U.K.
The nation in question must clearly enunciate what it seeks to gain from the maritime realm. Only in doing this will it construct an appropriate approach to its engagement with the sea.

Prof. James Holmes, U.S. Naval War College:

Deceptive Vietnamese maritime defenses?

        Deceptive maritime defenses in Vietnam?

Lesser maritime nations often seem to assume they have to compete symmetrically with the strong in order to accomplish their goals. That would mean that, say, a Vietnam would have to build a navy capable of contending on equal terms with China’s South Sea Fleet in order to fulfill its strategic aims. That need not be true. Here at the College we sometimes debate whether small states have grand strategies, or whether grand strategy is a preserve of the strong. Small coastal states do have grand strategies. In fact, there’s a premium on thinking and acting strategically when you have only meager resources to tap. Our Canadian friends, for instance, take pride in operating across inter-agency boundaries. Small states can’t simply throw resources at problems and expect to solve them. They have to think and invest smart. That’s my first bit of advice.

What kinds of strategies and forces should the weak pursue? Here’s the second bit of advice: they should consult great thinkers of the past. The French Jeune École of the 19th century formulated some fascinating ideas about how to compete with a Royal Navy that ruled the waves. Sir Julian Corbett fashioned a notion of active defense by which an inferior fleet could prevent a greater one from accomplishing its goals. In effect it could hug the stronger fleet, remaining nearby to keep the enemy from exercising command of the sea. Mao Zedong’s writings about active defense also apply in large part to the nautical domain. The notions of sea denial and maritime guerrilla warfare should resonate with smaller powers today. Clinging to an adversary while imposing high costs on him is central to maritime strategies of the weak.

And third, what does that mean in force-structure terms? It means smaller maritime powers should look for inexpensive hardware and tactics that make life tough and expensive for bigger powers. I have urged the Taiwan Navy to downplay its sea-control fleet in favor of platforms like missile-armed fast patrol boats that could give a superior Chinese navy fits. Such acquisitions are worth studying even for a great naval power like Japan. So long as Tokyo caps defense spending at 1 percent of GDP, it has to look to get the most bang it can for the buck. Sea denial should be in its portfolio. Bottom line, lesser powers should refuse to despair about their maritime prospects. They should design their fleets as creatively as possible, taking advantage of the home-field advantage all nations enjoy in their immediate environs. That may mean a navy founded on small craft.

Anonymous, USN:
Protect your resources and people. Make friends with powerful nations that can help guard you.

LT Drew Hamblen, USN:
Design high-speed, helicopter- and small boat-capable ships that can combat piracy and enforce maritime law. A few guided-missile cruisers may be needed to augment coastal defenses. Expeditionary navies will increasingly become obsolete in favor of submarine patrols and small surface surveillance units.

Felix Seidler, seidlers-sicherheitspolitik.net, Germany:

Drug runners prove navies and coast guards don't have a monopoly on maritime forces in South America.

Drug runners prove navies and coast guards don’t have a monopoly on maritime forces in South America.

My advice would depend on the region. Latin American nations surely do not need blue-water capabilities, and instead should focus on small, mobile units to fight drug trafficking, etc. In conflict zones, my advice would be to build up sophisticated cyber-forces soon. From a cost-benefit perspective, the easiest way for a small nation to target a large one is cyber-warfare. With regard to naval vessels, I would definitely recommend submarines. It does not make any sense for smaller nations to try and get the upper hand on the surface. Instead I would advise using cyber and submarine forces for asymmetric tactics.

Matt Cosner, U.S.:
I believe that smaller maritime nations – particularly those concerned with controlling significant maritime frontiers and resources vice projecting power – would be better served acquiring land-based maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft (MPRA) rather than buying additional warships. One needs look only at Japan as an example. Japan has a much smaller ship count (70 vs. 280 ships) than the U.S. Navy, yet fields only slightly fewer MPRA (80 vs. 120 aircraft).

For a smaller maritime nation, say Indonesia or the Philippines, an MPRA doesn’t necessarily have to be something as capable (and expensive!) as the P-3C Orion or P-8A Poseidon. These aircraft are optimized for long-ranged anti-submarine warfare, yet many countries have little need for this specialized capability.

In my opinion the better solution for most smaller maritime nations is something like a marinized Reaper UAS. Persistent maritime ISR is an enormous force multiplier that the U.S. Navy is only beginning to understand with its MQ-4 BAMS. In the context of a smaller nation – a squadron of 5 Reapers could provide persistent (24/7) surveillance over a very wide expanse of water, as well as a kinetic response if/when required.

LT Alan Tweedie, USNR:
Invest in modular small combatants. I can’t stress the modular concept enough, many industries, including civilian shipping companies have been doing it for years. Modularity brings flexibility with lower cost, two must-haves for a small nation.

CDR Chris Rawley, USNR:

Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) comes in many forms and has provided service in operations including counter-drug and counter-piracy.

Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) comes in many forms and has provided service in operations including counter-drug and counter-piracy.

Buy small patrol vessels (or even converted commercial/fishing vessels) your country can sustain without external support, be that maintenance contracts or fuel. There is no need to purchase expensive, complicated, technologically intensive “maritime domain awareness” (MDA) solutions. Rather, acquire as many intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft – whether manned or unmanned – and the infrastructure to support them, as you can afford. Most importantly, invest in a competent and professional boarding team capability. These teams are the main battery of a nascent navy or coast guard with the primary missions of policing coastal waters and controlling maritime borders against smugglers, pirates, and the like.

LTJG Matt Hipple, USN:
Don’t expand beyond your interests. For example, Pakistan has a “navy” with FFGs, but their interests don’t lie beyond their shores and serves little more than targets for India at sea. Maintain a bubble of security and legitimacy within your “realm” using corvettes and a corps of professional highly paid sailors and law-enforcement officers. Find maritime partnerships within which you can grow organically.

Dr. Robert Farley, Professor, University of Kentucky:
The core role of a navy is to secure a state’s maritime interests. For a small, poor nation this will most often involve protection of fisheries, local anti-piracy measures, anti-smuggling, and other missions that run along the divide between military and law enforcement. Small, poor countries should concentrate on developing manageable, reliable, easy-to-maintain flotillas that can conduct these kinds of operations, and on developing a corps of sailors capable of doing their jobs well.

Small rich nations have different problems; many of them (in Europe, for example) already have relatively secure littorals. These states can focus on developing capabilities that will allow them to participate in and contribute to multilateral operations.

CDR Chuck Hill, USCG (Ret.):
Not every coastal nation needs a navy, but they all need a coast guard – see Costa Rica for example. It is their only armed force.

Bryan McGrath, Director, Delex Consulting, Studies and Analysis:
It depends on where that nation is. If it is in the South China Sea, I would recommend that their maritime investments be targeted on understanding the battlespace around their territory. Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)—from the land, on the sea and in the air.

Sebastian Bruns, Fellow, Institute for Security, University of Kiel, Germany:
Be flexible. Find a niche. Work to provide the right framework and circumstances. Be reliable and somewhat predictable: politically, operationally, and strategically.

Bret Perry, Student, Georgetown University:
Smaller nations should focus on procuring sustainable, simple systems. The following example illustrates my advice: a second- or third-world nation would be better off with a fleet of armed RHIBs (rigid-hull inflatable boats) than one or two larger patrol boats to protect their waters. Many second- or third-world navies lack the capability or willingness to maintain these “larger” ships; as a result, they sit in port and fall out of service. The same sometimes happens to the smaller RHIBs, but since they might have dozens of these, damaged ones can cannibalized for spare parts. These simple systems, combined with investments in training, will allow smaller nations to effectively conduct basic maritime security operations.

YN2(SW) Michael George, USN:
Rather simply, keeping the “quality over quantity” perspective when training, building, and forming their forces will go further than hustling as many ships and troops/sailors out there as possible.

LT Jake Bebber, USN:
Missiles are cheaper than surface or subsurface platforms, and a small nation can probably raise the “entry fee” into their littorals enough to discourage a maritime power like the U.S. (or China for that matter) from operating near their coast with land-based missile systems. If the small nation can afford a few diesel submarines and maritime patrol aircraft, it can significantly increase the cost of power projection over their shores from a larger maritime power. As Lord Nelson said, “A fool’s a man who fights a fort.” Today’s anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) systems – both land-based and platform based – are the modern equivalent of the 18th century coastal fort. They alone cannot win a war for a smaller nation against a maritime power, but they can certainly discourage one.

MFP 7: Future Maritime Disputes

What maritime dispute is most likely to lead to armed conflict in the next 5/10/20 years?

This is the seventh in our series of posts from our Maritime Futures Project.  For more information on the contributors, click hereNote: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.

LT Scott Cheney-Peters, USNR:

South-China-SeaI’m going to confine my thoughts here to the most likely to spill over into conflict and save the rest for Question 9. I expect that I will of course get most of this wrong. There’s a reason I’m not a betting man.

0-5 Years:  As we’ve been arguing on this site since last year, the numerous maritime disputes in which China is involved, China’s seeming unwillingness to seek a diplomatic resolution to these disputes, and China’s unilateral moves to change the situation on the ground (sea) means that there is an alarming risk of miscalculation and escalation in any of a number of conflicts (the Senkakus/Diaoyus; the Spratleys, the Paracels, etc). This is not to lay the blame solely in China’s lap, however. The recent (re-)election of Shinzo Abe in Japan at the head of a nationalist LDP government will perhaps be just as unwilling to make concessions in the Senkakus dispute, for example. And as we saw with the protest voyage to the Senkakus of the Kai Fung No. 2, non-state actors can just as easily force a government’s hand. All of this is despite the incredibly complex and large economic ties which bind all of the participants. Further, there is the possibility in any of these conflicts that a “wag-the-dog” component might come into play as the Chinese, Japanese, or another government seeks to distract from political or economic domestic problems through foreign adventurism.

Speaking of which, my runner-up scenario: Argentina vs the U.K., Round II.

5-10 Years:  The collapse of North Korea is something of a continuously looming catastrophe. Any prediction attempting to nail down a date has, of course, thus far been proved wrong. But the likelihood that it will happen at some point and the magnitude of follow-on effects requires robust contingency planning.

The reason I bring it up is that many of these potential follow-on effects dangers involve the possibility of maritime conflict – from a starved North Korea launching a land and sea invasion across the Demilitarized Zone and Northern Limit Line, or a combustible mix of Chinese and South Korean troops flooding into a post-regime North Korea, “disagreeing” over the terms of administration and reconstruction.

In a Naval War College class last year we presented a scenario in which the collapse of the North precipitated a potential humanitarian disaster, prompting a Chinese move across the border to stem the flow and the grave danger of miscalculation leading to conflict between some combination of American, South Korean, Chinese, and ex-regime ground and/or naval forces. We argued contingency planning (and regular multinational Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response exercises) for such a possibility needed to begin now between the U.S., South Korea, and China. More on this will follow in my oft-delayed post “Thinking About Prevention, Part III.” 

Runner-up:  Iran – because, well, the IRGCN sometimes seems like it requires individual units to bring foreign vessels to the point of batteries release as part of a bizarre initiation process.

10-20 Years:  The long-range forces likeliest to lead to maritime conflict in this timeframe and beyond may be urbanization, bringing more people to the cities, and climate change, bringing the seas closer to the cities. These won’t necessarily lead to a specific conflict, but could create a greater possibility of some new forms (in a tactical sense) of maritime insurgencies or require new/improved abilities to fight in maritime urban environments.

Simon Williams, U.K.:
The disputes raging between China and its South East Asian neighbours over islands and influence in the energy reserve rich South China Sea, I believe, has the greatest potential to escalate into armed conflict with many regional powers flexing their military muscles. The standoff also has the potential to draw in other global powers, with America and India waiting in the wings to defend their interests should they deem it necessary. Moreover, options for a diplomatic solution are slowly contracting; last year ASEAN nations failed to agree on a ‘code on conduct’ at the annual summit meeting. Tensions also have the inherent risk of drawing in other powers due to the globally vital trading routes passing through the region. America has already announced an increased focus on the wider Pacific region, a strategic shift which has caused some chagrin in Beijing, which contends the Americans are interfering and in effect staging an attack on China.

The increasing size of the Indian Navy and the ambitions of China to build a credible fleet, demonstrated by the recent launch of their first aircraft carrier, are likely to lead to a further increase in tensions. History demonstrates that two nation’s with large navies and divergent regional interests rarely get along.

LT Drew Hamblen, USN:
The Senkaku Islands, the Spratlys, or Taiwan itself.

Marc Handelman, U.S.:
Unchecked African-based oceanic piracy.
Polar (Northern) national territorial & natural resource exploitation.

Felix Seidler, seidlers-sicherheitspolitik.net, Germany:

Spreading the love

                            Spreading the love.

Definitely the South China Sea, not the Persian Gulf. The Iranian naval threat is over-hyped. The U.S. Navy would sink most of Iran’s vessels within a few hours. However, in the South China Sea, the interests of the U.S., China, and India clash. With rising 1) population numbers, 2) regional economies, 3) nationalism/nation self-confidence, 4) resource demand, and 5) Armed Forces capabilities, armed conflict between two or more states is more likely in the South China Sea than anywhere else. These five points create a dangerous cocktail, because any conflict, from whatever cause, could quickly escalate.

Dr. Robert Farley, Professor, University of Kentucky:
I would not be at all surprised to see conflict between China and one or more ASEAN states over island control and access in the South China Sea. The game is extremely complicated, ripe for miscalculation, and prone to a variety of principal-agent problems. States that don’t want to be in an armed dispute could easily find themselves embroiled if they miscalculate the intentions of others.

Bryan McGrath, Director, Delex Consulting, Studies and Analysis:
Cliché, but one of the ongoing South China Sea scenarios seems most likely.

YN2(SW) Michael George, USN:
Within the next 2 decades, the only legitimate threat from a maritime perspective I can foresee is China. From various disputes with Japan to burgeoning naval capabilities, such as its new aircraft carriers, China seems to be a force to be reckoned with.

LCDR Mark Munson, USN:
I don’t see the various disputes that China has with neighbors in the East and South China Seas as being the seeds for future armed conflict.  One possibility that could snowball into something worse would be the various Persian Gulf states reacting in response to further efforts by Iran to assert its control over the Straits of Hormuz.  My most likely scenario, however, would be a fight between North and South Korea over encroachments across the Northern Limit Line.

Sebastian Bruns, Fellow, Institute for Security, University of Kiel, Germany:
Until 2018:  South China Sea; Strait of Hormuz/Persian Gulf.
Until 2023:  China’s rise (in general); Northwest & Northeast Passage; South America undersea resources; and/or any of the above.
Until 2033:  China’s rise (in general); and/or any of the above.

CDR Chuck Hill, USCG (Ret.):

"Limit Line"  is more of a suggestion than a reality.

“Limit Line” is more of a suggestion than a reality.

China and Iran are the most obvious candidates. Today’s Navy seems geared to those threats. Looking elsewhere, we are likely to see some asymmetric conflicts where insurgents attempt to exploit the seas.

China will continue to push its claims in the South and East China Seas by unconventional means, or perhaps we may wake up some morning and find that every tiny islet that remains above water at high tide has been occupied. They are building enough non-navy government vessels to do that. They may also sponsor surrogates to destabilize the Philippines, Indonesia, and other Asian Nations that don’t willingly accept Chinese leadership.

We may also see conflicts:
– in Latin America, e.g. Venezuela vs. Colombia;
– between the countries surrounding the Caspian Sea over oil and gas drilling rights;
– over water resources on the great rivers of Asia.

There are always wars in Africa. They may become more general. Wherever there is both oil and weak governments, there may be conflict – Nigeria and Sudan come to mind. The entire Maghreb is at risk with Libya unstable, an ongoing arms race between Morocco and Algeria, and a growing Al-Qaeda franchise.

Bret Perry, Student, Georgetown University
5 Years:  Nigerian Piracy. Although not necessarily a maritime dispute, this is a serious maritime security issue that could get ugly. Piracy is on the rise again in Nigeria but unlike previous periods of piracy in the country the current episode appears less political and more criminal making it more threatening and difficult to combat.  Although Nigeria does not see as much commercial shipping traffic as Somalia, it still is a significant oil exporter via sea. This, combined with the increase in offshore oil facilities in the area, make piracy a serious threat to the area.

 

Nothing to see here!

                              Nothing to see here!

10 Years:  Persian Gulf Conflict. There is so much military activity among multiple countries in this region that conflict is likely. Although the US Navy and IRGCN have both displayed discipline thus far, if either side makes a mistake, or is pushed by another party, then the Gulf could experience some maritime conflict.

20 Years:  The South China Sea. Tensions in this region between the different parties involved will continue to fluctuate, but it will be some time until China possesses the confidence to decisively act militarily.

LT Alan Tweedie, USNR:
Both Iran and North Korea are unpredictable enough to start an armed conflict which would spill into the sea. The two also have enough land-based anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and ballistic missiles to put AEGIS/BMD to work for its intended purpose. India and Pakistan could also heat up their cold war, although I highly doubt the U.S. would get involved militarily in such a dispute.

LT Chris Peters, USN:
5 Years:  Iranian maritime claims in conjunction with their nuclear development.
10 Years:  North Korea vs South Korea OR China vs Japan re: disputed islands.
20 Years:  Access to Arctic waterways and seabed resources.

CDR Chris Rawley, USNR:
I’ll answer this question in the broader context of defense strategy. The U.S. DoD is making a deliberate pivot to East Asia, but changing global demographics don’t necessarily support such a shift. At the Jamestown Foundation’s recent Terrorism Conference, insurgency-expert David Kilcullen spoke to four global trends:

1) Population growth – By 2050, there will be over 9 billion people on earth. Much of this rapid growth will continue in less-developed regions of the world, with the “youth bulge” more prominent in the Middle East and Africa. Meanwhile the populations of industrialized countries, including China, will remain stagnant, or even shrink.
2) Urbanization – The trend of people moving to cities will continue, especially in Africa and South Asia. Urbanization brings with it higher rates of crime, pollution, and sprawling slums. The problems associated with these issues will often spill outside of a city’s borders, sometimes even becoming transnational.
3) Littoralization – Mega-cities (those with more than 10 million people) appear mostly in coastal regions. Poverty-stricken mega-cities in littoral areas such as Mumbai, Karachi, Dhaka, and Lagos are growing the fastest.
4) Connectedness – People and financial sectors are increasingly linked together globally with networks, cell phones, and satellites communications. These technologies provide constant global reach to anyone, anywhere.

Battlegrounds of the future?

Battlegrounds of the future?

The demographic trends are global, but the first three are most pronounced in coastal Africa and the Indian Ocean rim countries. Kilcullen primarily discussed these trends in the context of al Qaeda’s future. As an example, he believes (as do I) we will see more Mumbai-style attacks, with the terrorists infiltrating from the sea and command-and-controlling their operations in real time with smart phones and social media. But these four trends have greater implications for national security than the terror threat alone. Importantly, they indicate that irregular, people-centric threats will continue to create a disproportionate share of crises most likely to precipitate military intervention. It makes sense to array higher-end forces in areas where higher-end, state-centric threats are possible. But before we realign too much force structure to counter a blue-water fight in East Asia, we should consider that the types of missions these ships have been doing in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf the past two decades is what they will likely continue to do for the next two decades.

Moreover, the trends revalidate the importance of sea power to our nation’s security and support disproportionate defense spending on the Navy/Marine Corps team. From an acquisition stand-point, the Navy will need more platforms and weapons optimized to operate in the littorals and a continued focus on expeditionary logistics. Doctrinally, the Marine Corps will need to develop and practice new concepts for fighting in urban terrain.

LCDR Joe Baggett, USN:
Melting of the Polar Ice caps – Creating a race for claim and sovereignty over resources. Climate change is gradually opening up the waters of the Arctic, not only to new resource development, but also to new shipping routes that may reshape the global transport system. While these developments offer opportunities for growth, they are potential sources of competition and conflict for access and natural resources.

Increased competition for resources, coupled with scarcity, may encourage nations to exert wider claims of sovereignty over greater expanses of ocean, waterways, and natural resources—potentially resulting in conflict.

LTJG Matt Hipple, USN:
In the specific realm of dispute over the maritime domain, as opposed to just armed conflict in the maritime domain (in which case, Iran), the Senkakus are the most likely candidate. It wouldn’t be a full-blown war, but certainly there is a likelihood of shots being fired in misguided anger or accident with the increased level of friction contact between multiple opposing navies and fanatical civilians.

LT Jake Bebber, USN:
If history teaches us anything, it is that the next major conflict will occur in an area we will not expect and involve parties and issues that will surprise us (how many of us could point out Afghanistan on a map on September 10, 2001?). We will likely not be prepared. That being said, if I had to bet money, I would suggest that the maritime dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands is the one most likely to lead to a maritime conflict, drawing in a reluctant United States.

Future Airwing Composition: Unmanned ISR

According to Defense News, the U.S. Navy’s inventory of manned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms - land-based P-3 Orion and EP-3 Aries - will be cut by more than a quarter over the next few years.  The current consolidations are not the first time in recent history the Navy has trimmed ISR capability.  As late as the 1990s, a typical carrier air wing deployed with a number of organic platforms capable of collecting intelligence, including tactical aircraft such as the F-14 with the Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) and ES-3A Shadows for electronic signals intercept (ELINT).  These aircraft were supplemented by a robust ground-based P-3 fleet along with numerous forward-looking infrared (FLIR)- and radar-capable helicopters on smaller cruisers and destroyers.  Today’s remaining manned aircraft, such as the venerable, but still effective, P-3s are often found flying over-land missions in support of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. 

 

BAMS BAMS!

                                                                   BAMS BAMS!

While the manned P-3 will eventually be replaced by Boeing’s manned P-8A Poseidon, the future of maritime ISR is unmanned.  In the near-term, tactical UAVs such as ScanEagle and Firescout will increase in numbers across the surface fleet.  Although their video can be transmitted over the horizon via satellite links from their launching ships, the shorter range of tactical UAVs generally makes them more appropriate for local reconnaissance operations.  The MQ-4C Triton Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) will soon be available to cover theater ISR missions, and eventually, as long-endurance, carrier-based drones are added to the fleet, the equation will tip even more in favor of unmanned ISR assets. 

 

Carrier-based unmanned ISR aircraft will bring unprecedented capabilities to the U.S. Navy after over nine decades of naval aviation.  First, the aircraft will realize high sortie generation rates due to reduced maintenance and pilot proficiency requirements.  Because these aircraft will have much longer endurance than any manned aircraft, fewer planes will be needed to provide on-station ISR, which will be for a longer duration and can cover a larger area of land and sea.  RQ-4 Global Hawks (BAMS’ brothers) are already demonstrating these ultra long-range patrols in the Middle East and Western Pacific. 

 

Secondly, wear and tear on airframes will be greatly reduced compared to manned aircraft.  Today when a carrier deploys, pilots must fly to remain proficient during the ship’s transit to and from an operating area.  These transits can take over a month each way and the hours put on those aircraft during proficiency flights do not directly contribute to operations.  The airframes of UAVs will only be flown operationally and not for training, extending their overall lifecycles.  Additionally, because drones will not need to be tied to pilots in a squadron for training during transit, at least some of them could be cross-decked from a departing carrier to a new ship rotating into the operational theater (usually Central Command).  Cross-decking will produce more operational sorties per aircraft than an equivalent number of manned planes, resulting in a smaller overall required UAV inventory.

 

Finally, unmanned aviation will eventually result in higher rates of fully mission capable aircraft than their manned counterparts on deployment.  When a drone on a deployed aircraft carrier breaks down to the extent it requires depot-level repairs, it can be boxed up in the hangar and another drone can self-deploy within 24 hours from the United States or Europe to the carrier’s forward location to take its place.  Drawing from a pool of “just-in-time” spares without worrying about ferry pilots, refueling, and other issues associated with short-range tactical aircraft will make CVNs that much more valuable. 

 

The Navy has arrived at a critical juncture towards deciding the future of unmanned aviation.  The solicitation for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program was delayed from last fall until sometime this spring.   Amy Butler at Aviation Week has discussed the Navy’s internal debates between aspects of survivability, endurance, payload capacity, and stealth.  Yet, possibly the most important factor that should be considered in this program is affordability.  The price points of the potential UCLASS competitors’ vehicles are publicly unknown, but the assumption might be made that generally a reduced-signature aircraft such as Northrop’s X-47B will drive higher program cost than a less stealthy platform like General Atomics’ Sea Avenger.  Of course, as with any aircraft, total cost of ownership for UAVs includes training, maintenance, upgrades, and all ground-based infrastructure.  In this area, the Sea Avenger also would likely save the Navy money because of the commonality of its ground control systems, communications networks, and other systems with the now-ubiquitous MQ-1 and MQ-9 aircraft flown by the Air Force and other agencies.  If the Navy misfires on this program, at some point unmanned carrier aviation – or possibly carrier aviation writ large - could become unaffordable for the U.S. Navy.  Wise choices up front in the UCLASS solicitation could pay big dividends decades from now.

This article was re-posted by permission from, and appeared in its original form at NavalDrones.com.