Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

terrawind_water1

Corps Existentialism: Ensuring a Future for the Marines

After more than a decade of overwhelming success in combat operations ashore, the United States Marine Corps is mounting a very public return to its sea faring roots—and the timing could not be worse.  The defense budget is shrinking by billions of dollars each fiscal year, impacting everything from amphibious ship maintenance / readiness / modernization and interoperability to Marine acquisitions and end strength.  In the midst of all this fiscal turmoil, the Department of the Navy (DoN) is further handicapped by an absence of Department level strategic communications coordination evidenced by the distant narratives being communicated from the Blue and Green sides on amphibious operations. With America’s largest Global War on Terror land campaigns wrapping up and with it a shrinking appetite to maintain two land armies, the lack of a coherent, unified justification for the future employment of Marines aboard Navy shipping existentially threatens the Marine Corps. Below are eight major items that the DoN must internally reconcile in this budget cycle to further guarantee future relevancy of the US Marine Corps:

1.       DOCTRINE: Reconsider the Marines new Capstone Document, Expeditionary Force 21 (EF-21).

“EF-21 will not change what Marines do, but how they do it[1].”  To this I would add “and when they will do it, and why they will do it.”  EF-21 represents a unilateral, fundamental paradigm shift in Joint Forcible Entry Operations (JFEO) doctrine that disconnects with existing concepts such as the Joint Operational Access Concept and the Army – Marine Corps Access Concept.  EF-21 asserts the Marine Corps’ preeminence in conceiving Amphibious Doctrine and announces dramatic changes in USN shipping standoff ranges during landing operations (an almost unfathomable 65 nautical miles) as well as a novel sequencing of operations—landing Marines prior to cyber, naval, or air preparation of the battle space in order to conduct USMC counter anti-access and counter area-denial operations.  The Marines have blazed a new doctrinal path, replete with unique assumptions on surface ship missile defense capabilities (underestimated) and surface connector capabilities (overestimated). With EF-21 they have created a schism that—left unreconciled —will call into question Naval / Joint doctrine and acquisitions to support amphibious entry operations.

2.       ORGANIZATION: Re-evaluate the ARG MEU and MAGTF

For well over a decade, the Amphibious Ready Group / Marine Expeditionary Units (ARG MEU) have been operating outside of their normal 3 ship formations. “Split Force Operations” and “Distributed Operations”[2] have been directed by Geographic Combatant Commanders, thereby breaking up the traditional ARG MEU formations in order to distribute the ships and personnel where operationally required.  While the ARG MEU has been historically conceived as an amphibious, expeditionary rapid reaction combined arms force capable of self-sustainment, the proliferation of lesser contingency operations has resulted in the placing of greater preeminence on the pieces parts vs. the whole.  This trend of separating not only ARG-MEUs but also and their Marine Corps combined arms Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTF) will likely only increase in the future (especially with game changing acquisitions like the 5th Generation F-35B Lightning II coming to the Fleet in FY-17).  The cross domain synergy envisioned in the JOAC—“…the complementary vs additive employment of capabilities which enhances the capabilities and compensates for the vulnerabilities of others”—will drive independent elements of the MAGTF further into the Joint arena, and may precede a paradigm shift fundamentally altering the current ARG MEU and MAGTFconstructs.  Getting in front of that bow wave will be essential to maintaining both the MAGTF’s integrity, its capability set and its Joint Force relevency in both fully integrated and split/disaggregated instantiations throughout the range of military operations.

3.       TRAINING: Refine the agility instead of preparing for Tarawa II

Exercise BOLD ALLIGATOR is as much about domestic and international strategic communications as it is a Marine Expeditionary Brigade level exercise.  The Navy – Marine Corps team has used the exercise to host many distinguished visitors (DVs) to demonstrate the capability of amphibious forces to conduct forcible entry operations even after a decade spent waging two land wars and a significant curtailment of practiced amphibious landings on both coasts.  MEB level landings haven’t been employed operationally since the Gulf War—and in that case it was a pump fake at Ash Shuaybah.  What the Navy-Marine Corps Team has done plenty of is split/disaggregated operations, and despite their prevalence over the last decade, there has not been enough concept refinement and exercises to perfect the planning, combat cargo loading, disaggregating and (most importantly) re-aggregating of the force in order to conduct larger scale operations.  Real emphasis on these modern deployment dynamics have to become a priority so that Navy-Marine Corps amphibious forces can maintain their relevance as a scalable, agile force capable of deploying to conduct both distributed, lesser contingency operations and focused, combined arms major combat operations.

 

4.       MATERIEL: Preserve the Assault Echelon by ensuring that the ACV does not become a “Ship to Objective Commuter[3]”

With the current Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) fleet nearing 50 years of age, the Marines are in desperate need of a replacement.  The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle—previously the heir apparent to the AAV—was cancelled in 2011 after $3 Billion was spent and $15 Billion more required.  The successor to the EFV, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), is reported to lack an amphibious capability (it will not swim unlike its predecessors) and will instead rely on US Navy surface connectors (Landing Craft Air Cushion [hoovercraft] and Landing Craft Utility [regular displacement craft]) to get ashore. As stated by LtCol Howard F. Hall in the Marine Corps Gazette, “… regardless of its land capabilities, the [non amphibious ACV] lack of personnel carrying capacity, reliance on connectors, and delayed transition from those connectors once ashore exacerbate operational risks.” Those risks include surrendering the assault echelon writ large: without amphibious capability, the connectors—which are very vulnerable to small arms, coastal artillery / mortars—would be stuck depositing ACVs instead of follow on logistics and supplies.  Once ashore, the ocean becomes a brick wall to Marines embarked in ACVs instead of maneuver space.  EF-21 envisions a 65 nautical mile standoff between Marines on the beach and Sailors on the amphibs.  If that distance is to be honored, an “amphibious combat vehicle” that lives up to its name must be fielded.

5.       LEADERSHIP: Challenge convention, support the Joint Force and the Corps will continue to thrive

The Marines are famous for their institutional paranoia on both Navy support and Army efforts to subsume them.  This paranoia, however, is detrimental to effecting needed change, and often causes a reflexive opposition to anything which threatens existing Marine Corps doctrine—seen as the Corps’ existential guarantor.  The Corps is not without their own innovators, however.  Earl “Pete” Hancock Ellis, as a Major in the Marines, conceived and developed the innovative Operations Plan 712—the basic strategy for the United States in the Pacific that led to the Corps’ modern day monopoly on Amphibious Assault (and in no small part its survival through the twentieth century). If not for Ellis’ own benefactor, General LeJeune, OPLAN 712 may never have received the vetting that drove it to become foundational to the Pacific Campaign.  This same kind of innovation and support, and not just doubling-down of core competencies in more difficult settings, must take place with Marine leadership going forward to ensure that the Corps is positioned strategically to act when the Joint Force requires.

6.       PERSONNEL: Bring back Marines assigned to Navy ships at the platoon level to augment Navy VBSS, security, small arms, ATFP capabilities

The Marines had an illustrious 223 year run on Navy capital ships, which ended in January 1998 as the defense department drew down its end strength as part of the Clinton era peace dividend.  Today, as the Corps is set to shrink once again post Afghanistan and Iraq, there is ironically a pressing need for Marines to return to Navy ships.  Anti-terrorism / Force Protection (ATFP) requirements—sentries, crew served weapons and quick reaction forces—have been on a steady rise since the 2000 USS Cole suicide bombing in Yemen.  These watch stations strain Navy crews and are manned by personnel whose primary responsibility is not the handling of small arms.  Likewise, Navy Visit Board, Search and Seizure teams—while more proficiently trained than their ATFP counterparts—are principally manned and trained for inspection and self-defense; they do not have an assault / counter-assault capability and therefore usually rely on heavily tasked special operations forces (SOF) to conduct opposed boardings.  Returning Marines to Navy ships will bring additional ATFP and VBSS capabilities to the Fleet while insulating the Marine Corps from additional manpower cuts.

7.       FACILITIES: Prepare special units to embark non-traditional shipping (and keep them light)

Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos testified in front of Congress on 01 October on his initiative to form a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SP MAGTF) in Kuwait to provide regional Quick Reaction Force (QRF) capability.  Retired Captain Jerry Hendrix of the Center for a New American Security endorsed the innovation in the Wall Street Journal.

“Looking at the Marines as a crisis response force is good in the sense the Corps knows it must develop an alternative mission and a new future.” [4]

However, Amos believes that his efforts are being hamstrung by the lack of amphibious shipping.

“In a perfect world we would rather have these teams sea-based, but we don’t have enough ships.”[5]

Not every contingency warrants a warship.  For lesser contingency operations—everything from embassy reinforcement, snatch-and-grabs to theater security cooperation—the Navy is looking towards employing ships from its “Moneyball Fleet”.  Joint High Speed Vessels, Afloat Forward Staging Bases, Dry Cargo Logistics Ships and Littoral Combat Ships are considerably cheaper to build and operate than their USS cousins, boast considerable cargo space, have sufficient flight deck / boat deck facilities while operating with a considerably smaller “signature.”  In order to ensure that these vessels do not become the exclusive domain of lighter / sexier Special Operations Forces (SOF), Marines must build tailored, scalable packages that can rapidly deploy, integrate, conduct operations and debark as cheaply and as expeditiously as possible.  Throwing down similar communications integration, berthing, and command and control requirements on non-traditional shipping as amphibious shipping is a surefire way to get priced out and left on the pier.

8.       POLICY: A greater role for the Secretary of the Navy in ensuring unity of effort / purpose within DoN DOTMLPF

At the end of the day, Title 10 authority to man, equip and train the members of the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps is invested in the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Ray Mabus.  The department’s strategic vision must be clearly defined and communicated at the Secretariat level.  There is no room for competing narratives, especially in an era of ever shrinking fiscal resources and ever expanding operational requirements.  It must become the policy of the Department of the Navy that all Navy / Marine Corps Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership, Personnel, Facilities conform to the department’s strategic vision and serve in promoting its unity of purpose.  Anything less introduces risk and presents an existential threat to the Marine Corps.

 

Nicolas di Leonardo is a member of the Expeditionary Warfare Division on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations and a student at the US Naval War College.  The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Expeditionary Warfare Division or the Naval War College.

[1] Amos, General James E. et al.  “EF-21,” Headquarters Marine Corps, 04 March 2015, p.5
[2] Disaggregated Operations are defined in EF-21 as “…requiring elements of the ARG/MEU to function separately and independently, regardless of time and distance, with elements under a command relationship that changes/limits the ARG/MEU commanders’ control of their forces.  Distributed Operations / Split Force Operations are defined as “…requiring elements of the ARG/MEU  to function separately for various durations and various distances with the ARG and MEU commanders retaining control of their forces under the Geographic Combatant Commander.”

[3] Hall, LtCol Howard F.  “Ship to Objective Commuters: The Continuing Search for Amphibious Vehicle Capability.”  The Marine Corps Gazette, August 2014
[4] Barnes, Julian E.  “Marines Deploy New Quick Reaction Force in Kuwait.”  The Wall Street Journal, 02 October 2014.
[5] Barnes, Julian E.  “Marines Deploy New Quick Reaction Force in Kuwait.”  The Wall Street Journal, 02 October 2014.

A Chinese warship launches a missile during a live-ammunition military drill held by the South China Sea Fleet last year.

American Strategy in the 21st Century: Maritime Power and China – Part II

This is the second of a three-part series. See Jake’s first article here.

China is a Land Power
While China continues to invest heavily in a navy, it still remains a continental for several reasons. First, China must maintain a large land force for internal stability and as a deterrent to regional competitors such as India, Vietnam and Russia. It faces demographic, economic and social challenges which threaten the Communist Party’s grip on power. Bernard D. Cole states, “Economic priorities and the need to defend the world’s longest land border with the most nations … still argue against [the PLA(N)’s] ambition for a global navy.”[1] That being said, China continues to develop a navy capable of meeting security interests within the first island chain and most of the South China Sea up to 1,000 nm off the coast.

Second, while China has vastly improved “blue water” capabilities, it has not yet capable of protecting maritime interests beyond the first island chain. Investing heavily in “anti-access/area denial” (A2AD) capabilities is a defensive strategy designed to make the cost of U.S power projection too high. However, A2AD is not a sea control strategy. It does little to prevent the cumulative effect[2] of American (and allied) maritime power to strangle China beyond the first island chain, as outlined by Thomas Hammes.[3] Finally, China’s substantial investment in a navy will likely lead to organizational pressure not to risk it to heavy losses, something which Arquilla and others have also noted. [4]

“Quantity has a quality of its own,” and China will enjoy early numerical superiority against forward-deployed American forces. It would take two to three weeks for additional forces to reach the Western Pacific in the event of an unexpected crisis. A comparison of the PLA(N) and forward deployed American naval forces is found below.

Figure 1. 2012 Comparison of PLA(N) and U.S. 7th Fleet Derived from China Naval Modernization (2012)  a-CV 16 “Liaoning”, while commissioned, does not have a carrier air wing. b-Does not include “Jin” class SSBN or “Ming” class SS c-Derived from Table 4, pg. 41 of China Naval Modernization (2012) d-U.S. 7th Fleet derived from public information available at http://www.c7f.navy.mil/forces.htm
Figure 1. 2012 Comparison of PLA(N) and U.S. 7th Fleet
Derived from China Naval Modernization (2012) [5]
a- CV 16 “Liaoning”, while commissioned, does not have a carrier air wing.
b- Does not include “Jin” class SSBN or “Ming” class SS
c- Derived from Table 4, pg. 41 of China Naval Modernization (2012)
d- U.S. 7th Fleet derived from public information available at http://www.c7f.navy.mil/forces.htm
Noting the numerical superiority of the PLA(N) over local American forces, the PRC may miscalculate on American resolve (or that of allies such as Japan and South Korea) and initiate a conflict.

Also, while the U.S. has not fought a traditional fleet action since World War II, the Navy has been conducting combat operations around the globe for the past two decades. China, for all the investment and exercises, has not engaged in maritime combat since 1988 in the Spratly Islands with Vietnam. PLA(N) commanders may assume their combat capabilities are better than they actually are, providing unfounded assurance to their own political leadership, increasing the odds of miscalculation.

American Maritime Power and the Strategy to Defeat China
America’s super power status is preserved through the ability to project power across the oceans. While the most obvious component of maritime power is the Navy, it is in jointness with the land, air, space and cyberspace components that makes it formidable. The “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region must include a reallocation of forces and capabilities. China has continued to aggressively pursue territorial disputes, which have had the effect of driving many Asian countries to seek a greater American presence in the region. A larger land presence is out of the question, but naval and air assets – especially airborne ISR platforms – are much less intrusive and appealing. Space and cyberspace will play a significant (perhaps decisive) role, not only in sensor capabilities but also in defeating A2AD systems and PRC ISR.

The core of American maritime power is built upon destruction of enemy naval forces while preserving its own. Around this core are five pillars: scouting effectiveness, long-range strike, logistics and supply, amphibious assault and coalition warfare.

The Core – Sea Combat and Survivability
The ability to destroy or render inoperable the enemy’s navy – on the surface, in the air or under the sea – is the sine qua non of maritime power. At the same time, the survivability of forces enables the Navy to follow up on success and execute further operations, such as additional combat, blockade, escort or other sea control/sea denial tasks. The introduction of amphibious forces also requires sea combat and may be undertaken in contested waters. A maritime war with China will pit numerically inferior American forces against a formidable yet untested larger PLA(N). U.S. forces must be able to fight, win and survive to carry the war closer to China’s shores.

The Pillars
Scouting effectiveness. Wayne Hughes defines scouting as “the gathering and delivery of information,” a more compact and encompassing term than the currently used “ISR.”[6] It also includes the processing and analysis of vast quantities of all-source information – including space and cyberspace – to provide commanders the best picture possible from which they can make timely decisions. Scouting effectiveness is judged by how quickly information can be turned into actionable intelligence. If commanders can remain inside the decision-making loop of their enemy, they can have a distinct advantage.

Long-range strike. American military development continues to pursue the goal of projecting power from extreme distances or from a position of stealth or sanctuary. Long-range strike should be thought of as a “family of systems,” including land-based bombers, carrier-based strike aircraft (manned and unmanned), rail guns, cruise missiles and supporting airborne electronic attack aircraft.[7] The ability to strike the PRC’s A2AD systems, which are located not only on the coast but also far inland, will be crucial in a maritime fight. In this case, space and cyberspace offensive operations should also be considered in the family of “long range” strike.

Amphibious assault. War is ultimately decided by the “man on the scene with a gun.” The ability to insert land forces onto hostile shores in contested seas may be the ultimate arbiter in a maritime conflict with China, especially in the scenario described above. Even if not used immediately, the credible threat of an amphibious landing could have the effect of tying down Chinese naval, land and air forces hundreds of miles away.

Logistics and supply. In a conflict with China, we should expect that forward supply bases such as those in Japan, South Korea and Guam will become targets, along with supply ships. The flow of food, fuel, forces and ammunition will be the determining factor in our ability to sustain a long-term conflict, so our defense of “sea lanes of communication” (SLOCs) will be tested. Concurrently, the ability to restrict or deny China’s SLOCs should be an early objective of operational planning. A prolonged conflict will test both American and Chinese logistical capacity. The longer America is able to sustain a conflict while controlling SLOCs, the more untenable the Chinese position becomes.

Coalition warfare. The scenario we introduced highlights the importance of coalition and allied warfare. From a perspective of legitimacy, American national security policy has largely adopted the position that the unilateral use of force, while retained, is undesirable. World, and more importantly American, public opinion matters significantly in our ability to conduct and sustain military operations. More importantly, the participation of allies is necessary to offset the quantitative advantages of the PLA(N). The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) are significant forces in their own right, and combined with the U.S. Navy, would match up well against the PLA(N). Third, while some of our coalition partners and allies such as the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand or Singapore may not directly participate, they may provide critical logistical hubs or basing. The pillars described above – scouting effectiveness, long-range strike, amphibious assault and logistics and supply – will hinge on the participation and/or support of our allies and friends.

Preparing to Pivot – Restructuring Forward Deployed American Forces
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta suggested that approximately 60 percent of the U.S. naval forces will be postured toward the Pacific region by 2020. How those forces are configured remains a central question.[8]

A Chinese warship launches a missile during a live-ammunition military drill held by the South China Sea Fleet last year.
A Chinese warship launches a missile during a live-ammunition military drill held by the South China Sea Fleet last year.

Current maritime forces are centered on the USS George Washington carrier strike group and a large amphibious task force, CTF 76. The Air Force, Army, Marines and special forces also have a significant presence in the region in Japan, South Korea and Guam.

Future force realignment in the region should include an increase in the number of forward deployed U.S. submarines. The immediate availability of subsurface assets would tip the balance against the numerical advantage of the PLA(N) and allow commanders the option to operate immediately in the first island chain without risking large surface combatants.

In that vein, the development and construction of small fast and stealthy surface missile combatants would provide another avenue to commanders for operations closer in to Chinese waters.[9] Significant investment has already been made in both the littoral combat ship (LCS) and joint high speed vessel (JHSV), which represents a starting point. If equipped with next-generation anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM’s) such as the Harpoon Block III, advanced capability (ADCAP) torpedoes and SM-2 missiles, these surface combatants could sortie into the East China and Yellow Seas conducting “hit and run” attacks on the PLA(N) surface units as well as protect Japanese and Korean home waters. Further out from the first island chain, they can also be utilized from the Philippines to the Spratly Islands and Singapore to participate in off-shore blockade of the Malacca strait.

Much like the Navy, the Air Force will operate at a numerical disadvantage to the Chinese air and naval air forces. It will fight further from bases, requiring tanker support making them vulnerable and limiting their attack depth. Both the Navy and Air Force will depend on advantages in electronic warfare to blind China’s air forces and air defense systems while fifth generation stealth fighters, such as the F-22, will be critical to achieve air superiority.

Land forces in a maritime conflict are naturally built around maritime assault. However, the presence of a significant force on the Korean peninsula serves as both a deterrent to North Korea attempting to take advantage of a conflict as well as representing a pool of forces to draw from to conduct amphibious operations. Soldiers and Marines stationed on Okinawa, Guam, Korea, Japan and Australia, have to be sufficient in number to conduct a forced entry and capture of any number of island-war scenarios, whether in the tiny Spratly, Paracel or Senkaku Islands to larger ones such as Taiwan.

Land forces also have a role in our own ability to contest the seas and defeat PRC A2AD systems. They can be used to station our own ASCM capabilities among the many islands and littorals in the East and South China Seas. Coupled with land-based rail or traditional gun systems, they could provide an effective deterrence against a PLA(N) sortie and give the PRC leadership pause before initiating conflict.

The opening stages of a maritime conflict with China will be a contest of sea denial. Large American surface combatants will not be operating within the first island chain until Chinese land-based ASCM capabilities are sufficiently neutralized. Control of the undersea, air and space will be bitterly contested. The PRC will attempt to “blind” American ISR and “command and control” capabilities using cyber attacks and anti-satellite (ASAT) missile systems.

U.S. submarines will play a crucial role attriting Chinese naval forces as well as executing strikes against ports and logistic facilities. U.S. land-based and carrier aircraft will begin to contest the skies. With stealthy, fast missile boats, surface forces could sortie out into contested seas. America will not have initial sea control within the first island chain, but should pursue sea denial to limit the PLA(N)’s freedom of action.

At the same time, larger surface action groups made up of guided missile destroyers and cruisers can begin to choke off China’s economic lifelines, especially south of the Spratly Islands and in the Western Pacific. Long-range strike platforms and airborne electronic attack, coupled with space and cyberspace warfare operations, will attempt to roll back China’s formidable integrated air defense (IAD) and A2AD systems. This will create an ever-tightening grip on Chinese economic activity and achieve air superiority in areas critical to the conflict.

About the Author
LT Robert “Jake” Bebber USN is an information warfare officer assigned to the staff of the United States Cyber Command. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Central Florida. The views expressed here do not represent those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy or the U.S. Cyber Command. He welcomes your comments at jbebber@gmail.com.

Sources

[1] Cole, Bernard D. The Great Wall at Sea: China’s Navy in the Twenty-First Century (2nd Ed). Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2010. Pg. 201.

[2] Wylie outlined two types of strategies: sequential and cumulative. A sequential strategy is one in which each success is built upon the other in a march toward victory. He suggests the “island hopping” campaign in the middle Pacific as an example. A cumulative strategy is “made up of a series of lesser actions” which are not “sequentially interdependent.” See pg 22-27 of Military Strategy.

[3] Hammes, T. X. Offshore Control: A Proposed Strategy for an Unlikely Conflict. Washington DC: Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, 2012.

[4] However, this risk aversion may apply only to newer, modern platforms. The PLA(N) may be more willing to sortie older surface combatants which are still heavily armed anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) platforms

[5] O’Rourke, Ronald. China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress. CRS Report for Congress, Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2012.

[6]Wayne P. Hughes, Jr. “Naval Operations: A Close Look at the Operational Level of War at Sea.” Naval War College Review, 2012: 23-47. Pg. 32.

[7] Gunzinger, Mark A. Sustaining America’s Advantage in Long-Range Strike. Washington DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2010. Pg. ix.

[8] Neisloss, Liz. U.S. defense secretary announces new strategy with Asia. June 2, 2012. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/02/us/panetta-asia/index.html (accessed December 1, 2012).

[9] Huges, op cit., Pg. 29.

True_Lies_G_05

TLAMs and ISIS: Insane and Cynical Ways to Blow Things Up

Several days ago (Tuesday September 23), I drove to work listening to the report of the United States’ government’s latest military adventure in the area of the Levant at the confluence of northeastern Syria and western Iraq.     The National Public Radio (NPR) announcers intoned dryly on the launches, among other things, of 50—yes fifty—tomahawk land attack cruise missiles (TLAM) as part of a major strike against the threat de jour of this season, the brutal Islamic State.[1]   At 1.4 million dollars a pop, tomahawks[2] are a very very expensive way to kill people and blow up their sinews of war, the most expensive of which were captured from the Syrian and most recently Iraqi armies—in other words less expensive stuff (like towed artillery and armored personnel carriers) that originated mostly in Russian and US factories.[3]

 

USS WISCONSIN launches a BGM-109 Tomahawk missile against a target in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.
USS WISCONSIN launches a BGM-109 Tomahawk missile against a target in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.

23 and a half years ago the US launched its first TLAMS as a part of the opening air campaign of Operation Desert Storm, the combat phase of the US-led coalition’s successful effort to liberate Kuwait from the military forces of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and to restore stability, of some kind, to the Persian Gulf region.[4]   That use was part of an overall suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) campaign that built on the lessons learned from Vietnam in 1972, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and finally the Israeli Bekka Valley SEAD campaign in 1982. TLAMS served as a means, along with electronic countermeasures like radar jamming and use of anti-radiation missiles (ARM), to suppress Iraqi air defenses. Their use made sense because they were part of an overall campaign to achieve air superiority before launching the ground war that quickly liberated Kuwait under skies dominated by US and coalition aircraft.

Since then, TLAMs have been used in a similar fashion in Bosnia (Deliberate Force, 1995), Kosovo (Allied Force, 1999), Iraq again (Desert Fox, 1998, and Iraqi Freedom, 2003), and most recently in Libya (Odyssey Dawn, 2011).[5] One sees a trend here, with the exception of Iraq in 2003, of using these weapons as a means to show resolve without risking the lives of US service personnel on the ground.     Arguments can be made to support this use, although similar arguments can be made against their use, especially in the air-only campaigns. Today, they are again supposedly a part of a larger air campaign against the thug-regime of the Islamic State (for our purposes here ISIS).   One supposes that they were being used because of the air defense capabilities of ISIS, especially captured surface-to-air missile (SAM) equipment, anti-aircraft artillery, and radars.   Some of this concern for both manned and unmanned aircraft attacking ISIS is also directed at the Syrian regime, which has not guaranteed that its air defense system will remain silent during this expansion of the air war into Syria to attack the “capital” of the ISIS caliphate at Raqqa. However, ISIS’s air defenses have been assessed by some as being “relatively limited.”[6]

One must ask the question, why expand the war, both geographically and in terms of means, for the purposes of this essay, the means equating to TLAM use?   Has anyone done a cost benefit analysis (CBA) of this usage or is their use more an informational tactic meant to show sexy pictures of TLAM use to convey the seriousness of the intent by the Obama Administration?   A CBA notwithstanding, these other things may all be true to varying degrees, but it points to a more troubling suggestion. Is the use of TLAMs, like the use aircraft carriers to deliver the air power to these land-locked regions, simply a reflection of the strategic poverty of American thinking?

There are very few positive benefits in all these results.   Strategic poverty? Or cynical public relations campaign? Or wasteful expenditure of high technology smart ordnance against a very weak target (the ISIS air defense “system”)?   None of these choices offers much in the way of reassurance to this writer.

Further, the criteria for the use of these expensive “kamikaze drones”—my characterization for TLAMS—seems to be lower and lower. More and more, in the 1990s and since, when the US government wanted to blow up some meaningless bit of sand or dirt to display US resolve it sent these weapons in to do the job—or not do the job in most cases. We think we are sending a signal of resolve but our enemies, like the North Vietnamese during the ineffectual Rolling Thunder campaign, “hear” us sending a message of weakness, lack of resolve, and even cowardice.[7]   A friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, refers to the TLAM as: “the 20th Century equivalent of a diplomatic note, meant to convey disapproval without really doing anything.”

 

Alcoholics Anonymous—among others—has a saying: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.”   This latest gross expenditure of US tax dollars by the US Navy at the behest of its strategic masters to blow things up in a remote corner of the globe provides more evidence that US policy is either insane, impoverished, cynical, or all of the above. Let us hope it is impoverished, because that we can change; one day, and one election, at a time. But first the US must quit its knee jerk reactions to these sorts of events, like an alcoholic going on another binge.

 

John T. Kuehn’s views are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

 

[1] http://news.usni.org/2014/09/23/implications-expanding-isis-airstrikes-syria, (accessed 9/23/2014).

[2] http://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/smart/bgm-109.htm, (accessed 9/23/2014).

[3] http://www.infowars.com/isis-is-taking-over-iraq-using-captured-american-weapons/, (accessed 9/23/2014).

[4] Ed Marolda and Robert Schneller, Jr., Shield and Sword: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf War (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press), 167-183.

[5] http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=59476, (accessed 9/23/2014); and http://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/smart/bgm-109.htm, (accessed 9/23/2014).

[6] http://news.usni.org/2014/09/23/implications-expanding-isis-airstrikes-syria, (accessed 9/23/2014).

[7] LCDR Douglas M. White, USN, “ROLLING THUNDER TO LINEBACKER: U.S. FIXED WING

SURVIVABILITY OVER NORTH VIETNAM,” 2014, unpublished masters thesis (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combined Arms Research Library, 2014), passim.

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The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 2: Are All Nuggets Created Equal?

U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officers have a Napoleon complex. The community is often described as inherently self-conscious and hyper-competitive. Though SWO’s often sell themselves short, in reality, they are in the highest demand at all levels of our service and throughout the joint world. Commanders want Surface Warfare Officers because they can be counted on to get any job done – regardless of past experiences or training. The community can be a meat grinder, and those with upward mobility possess well-earned street credibility. How do they get to that point, though? In Part 1 of this series, we compared the training pipeline, billet structure, and shipboard priorities of the Surface Warfare Officer and Royal Navy Warfare Officer communities. Now let us delve into the mysterious world of the Fleet Nugget. This piece will compare the products that the Naval Aviation, nuclear, and conventional Surface Warfare communities deliver to the Fleet on Day One.

Surface Warfare Officers and Naval Aviators – the Jets and the Sharks. While there is no more fearsome combat team in the world, the communities are notorious for their sibling rivalry. Though we train fiercely to integrate our forces and work extremely well together to the detriment of the enemy, the professional blueprints of each community are oceans apart.

A T-45 Conducts Carrier Qualifications aboard RONALD REAGAN

A Nugget is a first-tour Naval Aviator or flight officer, especially applicable during their first deployment. The origin of the term absolutely belongs to aviators, but it does have cross-over appeal, and its connotation paints a faithful picture of a new officer in his first unit, regardless of designator. The general insinuation of the term is that the officer has little to offer their unit and must be taken under someone’s wing – pun intended. Is an F/A-18 Nugget equal to a SWO Nugget, though? What does each community really provide to their Fleet Squadrons and ships when they deliver a new batch of officers?

Student Naval Aviators in the Advanced Strike pipeline spend approximately two years learning everything from aerodynamics and physiology to air combat maneuvering and carrier qualification. During the training pipeline, they spend nearly 250 hours in the air testing their skills on three different airframes and refine those skills over the course of 75 simulator hours. Earning one’s Wings of Gold does not spell the end of training. The new Naval Aviator’s final stop before hitting the Fleet is the Fleet Replacement Squadron, where they perfect their art in their assigned airframe, spending another 175 hours in the air and in the simulator. When a Naval Aviator executes his orders to his first fleet squadron, he has spent at least 500 hours in hands-on training scenarios.

What is expected of a new Naval Aviator? What do wings mean on Day 1? Wings only come after an officer has demonstrated that they are able to meet a well-defined standard. When seasoned pilots accept a Nugget into their ready room, they see a pilot who can safely operate their aircraft, manage their respective mission and flight administration, and serve as a competent and safe wingman.

Aviators are well-trained before reporting to the Fleet and we have established the practical meaning of wings. What is the true nature of the product, though? On Day 1, the Naval Aviator Nugget will already have demonstrated proficiency at landing aboard a carrier during day and night operations. During his initial weeks in the squadron, he could be entrusted to conduct mid-air refueling, air-to-ground strike, strafing, and close-air-support missions, carrier qualifications, or high-value air-asset escort duties. With these baseline skills, the new aviators are immediately useful to their squadrons and are able to jump into the rigorous Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor-lead curriculum.

Like aviators, Nuclear Surface Warfare Officers also use the train-to-qualify method. After they complete a conventional division officer tour, they spend 6 months at Nuclear Power School where they master advanced mathematics, chemistry, physics, and nuclear theory. This school is widely acknowledged as the most demanding academic program in the U.S. military. They continue their pipeline with an intensive 6 months of hands-on watch-standing training and examinations at one of two Nuclear Power Training Units, or Prototype. Their community’s methods are known internally as the “Gold Standard.” This standard is rigid, unquestioned, and unabashedly enforced. When an officer graduates Prototype, they report to their aircraft carrier as a proven, and more importantly, qualified watch-stander. Shortly after reporting, a SWO Nuke Nugget earns their platform endorsement and re-qualifies on their ship as a Plant Watch Officer, immediately contributing to their department’s watch organization while also leading their respective division.

Newly commissioned Surface Warfare Officer candidates notionally attend an 8-week course known as the Basic Division Officer Course, or BDOC, prior to reporting to their respective ships. Keeping with the community’s focus on generalists, BDOC covers a wide-range of topics, including: basic damage control, Navy pistol qualification, basic SWO engineering, Maintenance University, maritime warfare, division officer leadership and fundamentals, basic navigation, seamanship, and ship-handling. Students take numerous exams and are held to the community standard of a 90% passing grade on their Navigation Rules (Rules of the Road) exam. It is a demanding school and was established to rectify the absence of any such schooling that existed for nearly a decade. During their time at BDOC, the ensigns spend 24 cumulative hours in the ship-handling simulators where they get a taste for everything from pier work to harbor transits and man-overboard recoveries.

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After graduating BDOC, our SWO Nuggets report to their ships and take over their first divisions. Unlike their aviator brethren, they do not wear a warfare pin when they report to the Fleet, nor do they possess any watch-standing qualifications. What then is the product that we are delivering to our ships? Our new ensigns – our Nuggets – are confident leaders and are capable of taking over the responsibility for people and gear from the get-go. They board their ships with a basic familiarization with shipboard systems, service policies, and standard commands (used to drive a ship). SWO Nuggets are not qualified to stand watch on their own, much less to lead an entire watch team, but they are prepared to step onto the bridge and take over as a Conning Officer – learning the finer details of ship handling from their fellow junior officers, enlisted specialists, and the ship’s leadership. Though they are not flying a Hornet solo over Afghanistan, they are standing tall in front of their divisions, as well as on the bridge, issuing commands to the helm and engines of their billion-dollar warships, increasing their competency and savvy exponentially during every watch.

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There is no doubt that the aviation and surface warfare communities have different demands, different priorities, and nearly polar-opposite cultures. An aviator must know what he is doing when he enters the Fleet, lest he crash his aircraft on the flight deck or drop his bomb on the wrong people. The Death-and-Destruction Factor is certainly relevant and is often used as an excuse for why Surface Warfare Officers do not have a similar training mindset. In other words, the argument is that young SWO’s can afford to be inexperienced because their mistakes are far less likely to cause catastrophe and because they operate with a safety-net of sorts made up of other watch standers. While I recognize the inherent danger of Naval Aviation, I disagree with this argument as a way to justify short-changing Surface Warfare Officer training. The culture and doctrine of the aviation community would not tolerate – much less conceive of – squadron skippers in the Fleet being burdened with building an aviator from scratch, yet our service puts that same burden on our ships’ captains, taking away from their crew’s overall combat-effectiveness. We are doing the world’s most fearsome warships an injustice. Surface Warfare Nuggets should report to the Fleet with know-how and qualifications, ready to drive and fight at the pointy-end from the moment they cross the brow.

After comparing the lives, methods, and priorities of Royal Navy Warfare Officers, Naval Aviators, and Surface Warfare Officers, I want to take the opportunity in the final piece of this series to analyze where the SWO community is getting it right, and where we could improve, as well as put forth two proposals that would fundamentally alter how the community trains and operates. In an era where fiscal uncertainty, regional conflict, and increasing operational tempos reign supreme, we must put our very best on the front lines – our country and our crews deserve it, and our enemies must fear it.

 

Lieutenant Jon Paris is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. At sea, he has served aboard both a destroyer and cruiser, in both Weapons and Navigation Department. Ashore he has served as a Navigation Instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy and as a Flag Aide. He is a prospective destroyer Operations Officer. His opinions and generalizations are his own and do not reflect official stances or policy of the U.S. Navy.

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Learning Curve: Iranian Asymmetrical Warfare and Millennium Challenge 2002

Tension between U.S. and Iranian military assets in the Arabian Gulf are nothing new. Confrontations between Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) and U.S. Navy vessels in the Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Gulf of Oman are a regular occurrence for forward-deployed ships. Iran knows it cannot match the U.S. in a conventional confrontation, and focuses on an asymmetrical style of warfare to increase damage and costs of confrontation to the U.S.

In 2002, a joint war game exercise, known as Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02), took place to gauge readiness in the event of a conflict with a hostile Middle Eastern nation. The results were disastrous for the U.S., with over a dozen ships destroyed and thousands killed or wounded as a result of asymmetric and unconventional naval warfare. 14 years later, Iranian asymmetrical warfare can still have a devastating effect on U.S. and allied forces in the Middle East. Unconventional warfare has been the Achilles Heel of the U.S. military for decades, and more gaming and training are needed to enhance U.S. capabilities in an asymmetric environment.

 

Just a relaxing day sailing the Persian Gulf.
Just a relaxing day sailing the Persian Gulf.

A Combination of Threats

Following their lackluster performance during Operation Praying Mantis, in which the U.S. Navy laid waste to several conventional naval vessels, Iran began to focus on asymmetrical warfare. Tactics include Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC), covert civilian craft, naval mines, and submarines.

The IRGCN utilizes swarming tactics as its method of choice. IRGCN bases are situated in various locations along Iran’s Gulf coast, from the Strait of Hormuz to the Northern Arabian Gulf. This is a key tenet in swarming attacks: packs of small attack craft covertly leave their bases at various times, all heading for the same target, i.e. a Carrier strike group operating in the Gulf. While this dispersed tactic may result in a weaker attack that is easier to repel, it is also much more difficult to detect, as the swarms don’t operate in a large formation. Also, craft equipped with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles can fire their payloads at a greater distance, ensuring survivability and destruction of their target.

Iran currently has the fourth-largest inventory of naval mines, as well as various platforms for deployment. Mines are a successful tool in the Gulf: USS Tripoli and USS Princeton struck Iraqi mines in the Northern Gulf during the Gulf War, and USS Samuel B. Roberts struck an Iranian-laid mine during the Tanker Wars of the 1980s. Iranian mines also dispatched large numbers of civilian merchant vessels in the same time period.

Iranian mines are largely cheap and unsophisticated. However, some Chinese and Russian variants, including the EM-52 multiple influence mine, are much more sophisticated and can be used in waters up to 600 feet – plenty deep to make the Central Gulf a dangerous place.

A majority of bottom-dwelling mines are designed for shallower waters. In some places, depths in the Strait of Hormuz are between 150-300 feet and are prime locations for these types of mines.

While the mines may not be sophisticated, deployment tactics are much harder to detect. IRGCN small craft are capable of laying mines, as are dhows, fishing boats and submarines. These platforms can carry up to 6 mines each and can be resupplied at sea. Mine laying platforms disguised as civilian craft would not raise suspicion on the part of Coalition forces while submarines can be quite difficult to detect by surface or air assets.

Iran operates several different types of submarines, all of the diesel variety. The Kilo-class are Soviet surplus that are nearing the end of their service life, but still require respect, especially in an asymmetrical warfare environment. Kilos can carry several dozen mines, laying them covertly beneath the waves and avoiding the overt detection by surface assets that endanger the mission of mine laying dhows and small boats. Kilos would also require an increase in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platforms in theater for sub identification and prosecution, such as submarines and air and surface assets. They would also increase the standoff distance of high-value assets such as carriers and troop landing ships. These platforms would most likely not venture too close to a known hostile submarine operating area with few defensive weapons.

Iran’s mini-subs are another part of the undersea warfare threat worth considering. There are at least three separate classes of mini-sub in the Iranian inventory, all diesel operated. Their small size makes them difficult to detect, and their ability to operate in shallow waters makes them a perfect tool to target vessels in the littorals, such as amphibious assault ships and patrol craft, and any convoy of warships or shipping making its way through the Strait of Hormuz. They can also participate in mine laying operations  in shallower seas as a support asset.

Millennium Challenge 2002

MC02 was framed as a Red vs. Blue game depicting the invasion of a smaller Middle Eastern nation by a much larger and more capable adversary. It was the largest war game ever devised; 13,000 troops, aircraft and warships spread throughout the world, at a cost of $250 million. While it looked much like the upcoming invasion of Iraq, the tactics employed by Red closely resembled the nonlinear and asymmetric tactics of the IRGCN.

The Red forces, led by Marine Lieutenant General Paul van Riper, utilized several unorthodox measures and tactics to exploit the weaknesses of the Blue forces. When electronic warfare aircraft fried Red team communications sensors, van Riper used coded messages voiced from the minarets of Mosques at prayer times. This signaled the armada of civilian boats and light aircraft underway in the Persian Gulf to take action, conducting swarm and suicide attacks on U.S. warships and firing Silkworm missiles at high-value assets, claiming two amphibious assault ships and an aircraft carrier. At the conclusion of the attacks, 16 ships were sunk and thousands of servicemen were dead or wounded. Instead of digesting the results and using them to refine tactics and strategies in the face of a nonlinear threat, MC02’s controllers simply reset the problem – ensuring a Blue victory and “gaming” the most expensive and important war game in modern history.

Was anything learned from the surprise ending of MC02? It appears not. Iran’s tactics are nothing new; they have been using asymmetric warfare since the Iran-Iraq war. Iran’s weak Navy isn’t a new development either; most ships are decades old with few modern capabilities. What Iran does have, however, is a military strategy with a basis in unconventional warfare. Asymmetric tactics, like those described above, coupled with a decentralized command and control structure and semi-autonomous unit commanders make Iran survivable in the event of a first strike.

Unfortunately, the U.S. thinks of nations with weak conventional militaries as no match for the technological and modern behemoth that is the U.S. military. This was evident in Iraq and Afghanistan, where insurgents with little resources utilized out-of-the box thinking and nonlinear tactics to inflict heavy damage on U.S. forces, culminating in eventual retreats. U.S. strategy rests on technological and conventional dominance as well as engaging in non-traditional conflicts using traditional strategy and doctrine.

While Iran’s bluster regarding its eventual destruction of the U.S. fleet shouldn’t be entertained, the threat posed by Iran should be. Nonlinear and suicide attacks from the sea, increasingly capable long-range anti-ship missiles able to reach any vessel in the Gulf, and unconventional communications and command tactics are nothing to brush off. More exercises like MC02 are needed to adequately gauge the readiness of the U.S.’s land, sea and air forces to any asymmetric conflict with Iran. Where there are tactical and strategic gaps, a shift in training is required to prepare our forces for this type of conflict. A Blue defeat in a war game isn’t an embarrassment; it’s a chance to lean forward and become a well-rounded fighting force able to meet any challenge.

The chances of a major conventional conflict with another nation are extremely rare. Unconventional land and sea combat has been the norm for decades, and the U.S. needs more gaming and training in order to cope with the nonlinear threat.

Brett Davis is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. He also runs the blog ClearedHot and occasionally navigates Twitter. His opinions are his own and do not represent the views of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense.

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ISPS: Operational Benefits, Administrative Burdens

Maritime Terrorism Image

Introduction

Every initiative has positive and negative sides. This applies equally to the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.  Whilst it may be true that the ISPS Code introduced a new burden by way of the volume of paperwork it generates, its benefits outweigh the burdens. The reasons for this are as follows:

Violence against vessels will remain so long as maritime transport exists. Apart from piracy and armed robbery, we now have the threat of maritime terrorism, which poses real danger to the industry. Some of the world’s major sea lanes pass through narrow waterways, such as the Straits of Malacca and Gibraltar as well as the Panama Canal and Suez Canal, any of which could be an ideal target for terrorist attack on ships.

We cannot think of all the potential targets for maritime terrorists. A good example is the hijacking of the Italian flagged cruise ship, Achille Lauro, by four terrorists who were members of the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF) on 7th October 1985 in Egyptian territorial waters near the seaport port of Alexandria, which had about 800 passengers on board, excluding the crew. The PLF terrorists had demanded the release of fifty Palestinians held in Israeli prisons as the reason for their action, killed a disabled passenger in a wheelchair and threw his body overboard in the course of the stalemate. If such an incident were to take place today, it may involve more lives because cruise ships these days may be better described as floating ‘townships’ with capacity to carry thousands of passengers. For instance, the Italian flagged cruise ship, Costa Concordia, which grounded on January 13th 2012 was 114,137 gross tons with 13 decks and was known to have had passengers and crew in excess of 3,200 and 1000 respectively on board.

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Genesis of the ISPS Code

A chronology of the events which led to adoption of the ISPS Code may shed light on the theme of this article. The Achille Lauro incident mentioned above led to an outcry by the international community. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) being the United Nations specialised Agency with responsibility for safety and security of shipping acted accordingly by adopting Resolution A.584(14) on 20th November 1985 on Measures to Prevent Unlawful Acts Which Threaten the Safety of Ships and the Security of their Passengers and Crews. Some countries, namely Austria, Egypt and Italy, as well as the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), urged the IMO in 1986, to prepare a convention to tackle unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation on the basis that there was a gap that needed to be filled by having a new convention to deal with maritime terrorism because the international law for unlawful acts against ships was far behind, compared to the civil aviation sector which had adopted the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation in 1973, otherwise commonly known as the Montreal Convention. Thus a conference was held in the early part of March 1988 in Rome, and with support from more States, on 10th March 1988 the conference adopted the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA Convention) 1988. The SUA Convention 1988 was to ensure that appropriate action is taken against persons committing unlawful acts against ships and requires governments to extradite or prosecute offenders.

At the time of the 11th September 2001 (9/11) terrorist attacks in the United States, the SUA Convention which came into force on 1st March 1992 had been ratified by only 67 countries, worldwide. However, after the 9/11 attacks, the number of ratifications for the SUA Convention skyrocketed significantly to 146 States by spring of 2008, which reflects how serious the international community now regard the issue of terrorism and its potential threat to the maritime sector. Unfortunately the SUA Convention 1988 was seen as a toothless bulldog as it had no law enforcement provisions to deal with impending offences and failed to address the growing trend of global terrorism with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Thus after the 9/11 attacks, in November 2001 the IMO adopted Resolution A.924(22) to review existing measures to prevent and suppress terrorist acts against ships at sea and in ports, to improve security aboard and ashore so as to reduce risk to passengers and crew, as well as port workers on board ships and ashore, and to ships and their cargoes.

Consequently, a diplomatic conference took place at the IMO Secretariat in London from 9th to 13th December 2002 for measures to be taken to strengthen maritime security and to prevent and suppress acts of terrorism against shipping. That conference adopted a number of amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) 1974, the most important of which introduced the ISPS Code as chapter XI-2 of SOLAS. The ISPS Code came into force on 1st July 2004. As we know, Part ‘A’ of the ISPS Code contains detailed security-related requirements for Governments, Port Authorities and Shipping Companies which are mandatory, and Part ‘B’ contain guidelines on how the mandatory requirements are to be met.

At about the same time while the ISPS Code was in the making, there was preparatory work to toughen the SUA Convention. With backing of the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 59/24 of 17th November 2004, the SUA Convention 1988 and the accompanying Protocol on Fixed Platforms were amended on 14th October 2005 with the adoption of The 2005 Protocol to the SUA Convention and The 2005 SUA Fixed Platforms Protocol. Both Protocols created a new criminal offence for any person who unlawfully and intentionally attempts to intimidate a population or compel a Government or an international organisation. The 2005 SUA Protocols now cover modern day terrorist threats, including use of Biological, Chemical and Nuclear (BCN) weapons and materials, and to allow officials to board foreign flagged ships on the high seas to search for potential terrorists and their weapons, or to assist a vessel suspected to be under attack in similar circumstances.

A preventive instrument 

The main aim of the ISPS Code is to serve as a preventive, rather than curative instrument. No instrument will eradicate terrorism and other unlawful acts completely, just as the 1973 Montreal Convention in civil aviation did not prevent the 9/11 attacks. The paperwork generated by the ISPS Code may be a burden, but it serves as a constant reminder of the potential threat we all face, which may help to minimise potential atrocities against vessels, including crew, passengers, cargoes and port facilities.

I wish we knew, but we may never know how many potential terrorist attacks or other unlawful acts which have been prevented by the ISPS Code.  The intangible benefit may be seen from the fact that at least we have not had any terrorist attacks on the scale of the 9/11 attacks in the maritime sector (which is not impossible). Surely, no seafarer would like to witness something like the 9/11 attacks.

Conclusion

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the ISPS Code this month (July 2014), we need to reflect on its intangible benefits. The additional paperwork created by the ISPS Code is a constant reminder of the need for everyone in the maritime industry to be vigilant, which in turn keeps us on the alert that the maritime sector may be a potential target for a terrorist attack or other unlawful acts, any day, anytime, anywhere. No international instrument, whether labelled as a Convention, Treaty, Code, Protocol, Pact, Accord, Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or by any other designation, will stop a determined suicide bomber or criminal from carrying out an atrocious act, but vigilance may help to minimise, if not prevent it.

Herbert is the CEO of Global Maritime Bureau, an international maritime consultancy firm in the UK. He is a dual qualified lawyer in England & Wales and Nigeria and a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. He is an expert in international maritime and admiralty law, international dispute resolution services and multi-jurisdictional disputes. He is a Supporting member of London Maritime Arbitrators Association (LMAA), member of the International Maritime Statistics Forum (IMSF) and a member of International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Roster of Expert Consultants. 

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Narco-Submarines: Drug Cartels’ Innovative Technology

This is an article in our first “Non Navies” Series.

Written by Byron Ramirez and Dr. Robert J. Bunker

Drug cartels today are much more organized, adaptive, and strategic. Over time, they have acquired vast financial resources that allow them to invest in technologies geared towards providing them with a strategic edge. Drug cartels have learned to adapt to a changing environment where law enforcement authorities and militaries are also seeking to find their own effective ways of disrupting the flow of illicit drugs. Technology has become a source of competitive advantage and both drug cartels and militaries have been investing in engineering and technological tools that will allow them to counteract one another.

narcosubOn one side, drug cartels attempt to optimize their operational efficiency while mitigating the risk of detection, seizure, and capture. On the other side, we have law enforcement and militaries’ efforts to improve their surveillance and detection capabilities. This race to out-flank and counteract one another has led to the development of narco-submarines.

During the past twenty years, Colombia’s various drug cartels have engaged in investing in and developing narco-submarine technology that will yield a competitive edge. Over time, their increasing need to evade capture and confiscation of narcotics led drug cartels to move away from using go-fast boats and planes, and instead turn towards developing in-house, homemade, custom built narco-submarines.

A narco-submarine (also called narco-sub) is a custom-made, self-propelled vessel built by drug traffickers to smuggle their goods. Over the years, their engineering, design and technology have improved, thus making them more difficult to detect and capture. Moreover, from a cost-benefit perspective, the yielded benefits are far superior to the associated costs of building these vessels.

Although militaries and law enforcement agencies have become progressively collaborative in their efforts to reduce the flows of narcotics, the use of narco-submarines enables narcotics to continue to reach their destinations while reducing the probability of detection. Albeit, there have been some confiscations of narco-submarine vessels over the last several years. These appropriations in turn have led to our understanding of how narco-submarines are designed, engineered, and used to deploy narcotics.

Cocaine smuggling from the Andean region of South America to the United States generates yearly revenues in the high tens of billions of dollars (e.g. 2008 UN estimate of USD $88 billion retail) and over the last thirty-five years has produced in the low trillions of dollars in retail sales. The use of narco-subs and related vessels represents one component of a broader illicit distribution strategy that also relies upon go-fast boats, airplanes, the hiding of narcotics inside bulk containers and smaller commodities, drug mules, and other techniques to covertly get this high value product into the U.S.

In fact, as of June 2012, maritime drug smuggling accounts for 80% of the total illicit flow from the Andean region into Honduras, Mexico and other mid-way transportation regions prior to entry into the U.S. About 30% of the maritime flow is estimated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to utilize narco submarines. Overall, however, maritime interdiction rates are very low. In March 2014, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command testified to Congress that:

“Last year, we had to cancel more than 200 very effective engagement activities and numerous multilateral exercises, Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

And because of asset shortfalls, Southcom is unable to pursue 74 percent of suspected maritime drug trafficking, the general said.

“I simply sit and watch it go by,” he continued. “And because of service cuts, I don’t expect to get any immediate relief, in terms of assets, to work with in this region of the world.”

As a result, it can be seen that narco-submarines and related maritime drug trafficking methods are being carried out with relative impunity, with only about 1 in 4 craft presently being interdicted.

Per the testimony of Rear Admiral Charles Michel, JIATF-South Director, in June 2012, the following statistics pertaining maritime contact numbers and interdictions are provided:

JIATF-South detected an SPSS [Self-Propelled Semi-Submersibles] at sea for the first time in 2006. By 2009, the interagency detected as many as 60 SPSS events were moving as much as 330 metric tons per year. Prior to 2011, SPSS had only been employed by traffickers in the Eastern Pacific. However, since July 2011, JIATF-South has supported the disruption of five SPSS vessels in the Western Caribbean, each carrying more than 6.5 metric tons of cocaine.

There have been a total of 214 documented SPSS events, but only 45 were disrupted due largely to the difficulty of detecting such low-profile vessels.

The numbers of these vessels which now exist is also highly debatable with potentially dozens of them being produced every year by criminal organizations in Colombia such as the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), Rastrojos, and Urabeños. One point greatly influencing the numbers of these vessels which exist at any specific time is if they are utilized once and then scuttled after their delivery (the traditional U.S. military viewpoint) or if they are utilized multiple times (the traditional Colombian military viewpoint). Depending on the perspective held, greater or lesser numbers of narco subs would be required to be produced each year to replenish the vessels lost due to capture, accidental sinking, intentional-scuttling to avoid capture, and, potentially most importantly, at the end of a delivery run.

What is known is that the capability of these vessels has grown over the last two decades with their evolution and, if the Colombian cartels’ dream of making the journey (using fully submersible narco-subs) to West Africa and Europe is realized, such subs would very well represent a valuable cross Atlantic trafficking resource that would not likely be scuttled at the end of such a profitable illicit trade route.

Given this context concerning the immense values associated with the cocaine trade to the U.S. and the large amount of these illicit drugs not being interdicted during the initial leg in their journey to the United States, we have written a paper, “Narco-Submarines – Specially Fabricated Vessels Used For Drug Smuggling Purposes”, soon to be released by the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) and intended to be an initial primer on the subject of narco-submarines, that is, those specially fabricated vessels utilized principally by Colombian narco traffickers and developed to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. illicit drug market.

narco2This work is anticipated to appear in the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) website as unclassified research conducted on defense and security issues that are understudied or under-considered. The work contains a preface written by Dr. James G. Stavridis, and a number of essays written by U.S. Navy Captain Mark F. Morris, Adam Elkus, Hannah Stone, Javier Guerrero Castro, and Byron Ramirez discussing and analyzing narco-submarines. The paper also comprises a comprehensive photo gallery, arranged in chronological order, which allows the reader to observe the evolution of narco-submarine technologies. It also contains a cost benefit analysis of using narco-submarines, as well as a map and a table that highlights where these distinct narco subs were interdicted. The data that we came across seems to propose that cartels have been using different types of narco-submarines concurrently; hence, they seem to be employing a mixed strategy.

This study is important and relevant to the present challenges faced by law enforcement authorities and militaries. This effort seeks to add value to the existing literature on the subject as it contains several essays which describe the complexity of the challenges that narco-submarines present. The document also provides the background and context behind the emergence of these vessels. Furthermore, the work illustrates the evolution of narco-submarine technology and the advances in their design, features, and technical capabilities.

Finally, it is important that we collectively consider the potential of these types of vessels to transport more than just narcotics: the movement of cash, weapons, violent extremists, or, at the darkest end of the spectrum, weapons of mass destruction.

While this is a volume that will be of general interest to anyone with an interest in global security, the intended readers are military, homeland security, and law enforcement personnel who wish to learn more about these vessels and their respective capabilities. Policymakers and analysts may also find the work useful for understanding the detection and interdiction challenges that these vessels generate.

Increasing the area of knowledge about narco-submarines should enrich and deepen our understanding of the threat they pose to our domestic security, and indeed to the global commons.