A frequently cited fact in my days training to be a naval officer was that the most common weapon for damaging a warship since World War II was the naval mine. The recently concluded International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012 (IMCMEX 12), held in 3 distinct OPAREAs throughout the U.S. Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR), demonstrated both the difficulty of mine countermeasures (MCM) operations (detecting and clearing mines) and the potential of new technology to mitigate those dangers.
PBS’ News Hour quotes a retired naval officer and observer of the exercise, Capt. Robert O’Donnell, stating of the 29 simulated mines in the exercise, “I don’t think a great many were found…It was probably around half or less.”
The response from the Navy is a little confusing:
The Navy declined to provide data on how many practice mines were located during the two-week naval drill but did not dispute that less than half were found. However, a spokesman insisted that the figures do not tell the whole story and that the event was “‘not just about finding” the dummy mines.
“We enjoyed great success,” said Cdr. Jason Salata, the top public affairs officer for the 5th Fleet. “Every platform that was sent to find a shape found a shape. We stand by that.” Salata asserted that “there were no missed mines, each platform that had an opportunity to find the mine did so.”
While it is true that a 100% detection rate is not what the exercise was all about, that rate is still an interesting figure. It could indicate that every mine was found, but perhaps not by every platform – instead as a result of the cumulative MCM effort. It’s likewise unknown how the success rate broke down by platform and nation – more than 27 international partners operated with U.S. Fifth Fleet as part of the exercise. What is known is that MCM remains a difficult and deadly business, particularly in the context of some of the most likely future conflict scenarios, including Iran and North Korea.
While the exercise results will disappoint some (again, we don’t know who or what had difficulty finding what types of mines), they will also serve to reinforce the arguments for recapitalizing the Avenger-class MCMs, outfitting the USS Ponce as an Afloat Forward Staging Base, and placing rigorous demands on getting the LCS MCM mission package right. As mentioned above, the exercise was additionally an opportunity to test out some new kit. Before the exercise got underway, NavalDrones provided a preview of some of the Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) slated for testing in the drill, as well as a recap of other drones designed for MCM duties. Furthermore, a pair of similar threats might spark the development of crossover technology for use in MCM.
In addition to the more traditional types of naval mines, detecting and defeating the waterborne IEDs and enemy drones (AUVs and ROVs) of both state and non-state actors is seen by some as increasing in importance, and may rely on many of the same technologies used in MCM. Like the land-based IED/counter-IED arms-race of the past decade, we could be witnessing the start of a similar set of opposing innovation escalations. Foreign Policy earlier this week reported that the creation of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), is executing its own Pivot to the Pacific to focus on the typically lower-tech threats of waterborne terrorists and IEDs. Meanwhile NavalDrones last week highlighted some of the detection and clearance technologies that could be used against the evolving undersea drone fleets. The next decade is shaping up to be an interesting time for technology under the waves.
LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.
The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.
Force development is much like agriculture. Seeds appear trifling things; but such small objects can engulf entire fields or grow to incredible height. Investing early in incubator programs can lead to huge changes in the future. When observed from a position of strength, the small changes garnered by others seem superficial rather than tectonic. The American defense establishment is missing those tectonic changes as China’s military begins the process of stealing a march in force development.
China is pursuing a broad portfolio of revolutionizing technologies. We have discussed in detail the potential opportunities for drone warfare on this blog and elsewhere. However, those working to reap such opportunities are not here in the U.S. where ideas are shared freely, but in the People’s Republic of China. Scientists in China have developed a system by which, with thought alone, an operator can control an aerial drone. Rudimentary technology at best, it is nonetheless a leap we have yet to take. Even at the beginning stages, it shows smoother control with a mental operator rather than a manual one. Although the US does seem dedicated to drone saturation, we have not moved past our initial uses and operation of them. Drones still require legions of remote operators rather than partial automation and direct connections with the men in the field. While we have yet to integrate our many exciting advances in automation and bionics, the PRC has grabbed a great leap forward and changed the very way they interact with drones.
China is also marching past us in more mundane military technologies. We have discussed the practicality and pragmatism of theHoubei versus our misbegotten LCS. Far from the risky investment in an in-shore knife-fighter some desired, LCS was held back as a conventional, do-everything (aka: nothing) combatant without the relative advantage in speed, strength, or resilience to give it any sort of field advantage. We essentially attempted to build a Ford RS300, but halfway through decided to finish it as an Isuzu Elf. Meanwhile, with the PLAN following a disciplined strategy for blue-water modernization, a stream of solidly-constructed and capable warships are pouring into the Pacific, making the failures of our current investment ever more evident. Our attempts at modernization in the air are just as white-washed; worse than the do-everything design of LCS, the new Joint Strike Fighter attempts to stuff the needs of every branch into one frame that doesn’t quite make anyone happy. Even basic capabilities, like anti-ship missiles, lag embarrassingly behind. While the U.S. still uses a sub-sonic cold-war relic, the PRC rolls out DF-21Ds. Where technology does branch out, it seems unnecessary, like the laser-guided Griffen Missile system on PCs that already have far-more capable Mod 2 25mm cannons. China’s more reasonable and planned forays into future technology have made our past-ideas decorated with sweet rims look ridiculous.
We are also shrinking from the one area in which we could claim total dominance: space. Although our nation is now in the mini-euphoria from Curiosity’s landing on Mars, most have forgotten that this is an achievement of a program started 8 years ago. Our current manned space program is dead. NASA shifted the lion’s share of investment to “earth sciences,” a realm already well-manned by all the scientists ON earth. China not only retains a manned space program, but advertises a plan for both the Moon and Mars. Even if such a schedule is a dream, at least they still have one. While this is not directly a military issue, it is a strong force multiplier. Space is the ultimate high ground. To lose dominance there undermines a vast number of U.S. capabilities.
Our mighty oak is rotting from within. Money is pouring into failed projects. Our Sailors are over-stretched and time is cut for the training/education necessary to add critical value to those personnel. Our priorities are skewed, millions of man-hours are lost to politically correct schools and rubbish ship-wide life-choices training. Meanwhile, the PLAN marches forward, steadily planting the seeds necessary to grow a modern blue-water navy supported by a far greater industrial base than anything the U.S. can muster. They are slowly reaching into the commons, as the face put forward by the U.S. becomes harder and harder to maintain. If we don’t get back into step soon, we may need that long-view of history to see just how far ahead of us the Chinese march has advanced.
The effort necessary to regain our momentum would be disruptive, but not impossible. First, stubborn pride and sunk costs are no way to direct procurement. LCS must be cancelled. In its place, begin a vetting process for contracting apre-existanthullto be built in the US, backed up by a low-mix of new coastal patrol crafts and the new MK VI’s. This would provide the desired coverage using fast, proven, and cheaper vessels that would save us billions in these tight times.
Where the LCS has many fine replacements, the JSF has crowded out the development of real alternatives. The diplomatic/trade capital invested also makes it an impossible program to cancel without painful follow-on consequences. However, the billions saved from LCS could fund a quicker turnover to automated and integrated ComBot technology, creating an “AEGIS in the sky” of super-fast autonomous aircraft and ComBots on the ground integrated with our fighting men and women. It’s a future closer than you may think. These new automated systems could lead to new systems to take on LCS’s failed missions, such as brown-water ASW and mine-sweeping.
With the US’s new technologies, we rely heavily on space. It is a commons commanding the ultimate high ground from which we guide our weapons, communications, and our intelligence infrastructure. Less concrete, but existentially more important, we must continue our investment in the development and exploration of space. The United States, at its very essence, doesn’t represent a set of borders, we survive as an idea. Being a nation undefined by a border, we must constantly strive beyond them. When the US landed on the Moon, we didn’t represent just ourselves, but all humanity. Such is a cause and driving force behind our constant success… a dream. To abandon that dream, even worse to cede it to the likes of the PRC, would be tantamount to ideological suicide. We must re-invest in our manned space program. This is not in defense of our physical commons, but in the commons of ideas, something to believe in. Much like the JSF and LCS programs, we don’t believe anymore. We’re going through the motions. We need to regroup and find a real direction towards the future, because the PRC marching past us.
Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.
HNLMS Evertsen is one of four De Zeven Provinciën class air defence and command frigates in service with the Royal Netherlands Navy (Koninklijke Marine). Evertsen is the youngest of the four, having been completed in 2003 and commissioned in 2005. These ships superseded the two smaller Tromp class frigates, decommissioned in 1999 and 2001. Despite being classified by the Netherlands Navy as frigates, their displacement (6,050 tonnes), complement (202 + 30 aircrew), and role make them comparable to many destroyers. They are similar in these respects to the RAN’s planned Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyers (AWD). The Netherlands Navy also intends to use the De Zeven Provinciën class in a limited Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) role, having recently awarded a contract for modification of the ships’ Thales SMART-L and APAR radars. According to an article in January’s Proceedings magazine, these modifications are expected to be complete by late 2017. It should be noted that the currently planned modifications only endow the class with the capability to detect and track ballistic missile threats, and do not provide for surface-to-air interceptor missiles.
The De Zeven Provinciën class are armed with five 8-cell MK 41 VLS modules, with a typical loadout of 32x SM-2MR Block IIA (RIM-66L-2) and 8x quad-packed RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles. They are equipped with two quadruple-canister RGM-84 Harpoon SSM launchers, an Oto Melara Otobreda 127mm/54 Compact dual-purpose gun, and 2x twin-tube MK 32 Mod 9 torpedo tubes (with Raytheon MK46 Mod 5 torpedoes). Two Thales ‘Goalkeeper’ CIWS, 2-4x browning M2 .50 calibre machine guns, and 4x FN MAG 7.62x51mm machine guns are also fitted. The De Zeven Provinciën class carry either a SH-14D Super Lynx or an NH90 NFH. The Evertsen is currently carrying a Super Lynx for Operation Ocean Shield.
HNLMS Evertsen participated in EUNAVFOR’s Operation ATALANTA in 2009; in one operation her crew were responsible for capturing thirteen Somali pirates who had previously attempted to board the BBC Togo off the coast of Oman. In 2010, HNLMSTromp took part in Operation ATALANTA, including the retaking of the German flagged MV Taipan by Dutch marines. Evertsen has returned to the Horn of Africa as the Netherlands’ contribution to NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, under the command of Commander Boudewijn Boots, and serves as the flagship of Ocean Shield for Commodore Ben Bekkering, current Commander SNMG1 (Standing NATO Maritime Group 1), and his international staff of 24. She has been involved in several successful counter-piracy actions, including detaining Somali pirates who had hijacked an Omani dhow and its crew, and used the vessel to attempt to board the MV Namrun. The Evertsen carries a Royal Netherlands Marine Corps Enhanced Boarding Element (EBE) as part of its counter-piracy capability. The EBE is made up of operators from the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps Maritime Special Operations Forces (MARSOF), assigned to the vessel for counter-piracy duties. It may also be supplemented by regular marines.
A Formidable Frigate
Meanwhile, Singapore’s Formidable class frigates are considered amongst the most advanced surface combatants in Southeast Asia. Built around a substantially modified version of the French La Fayetteclass, they feature an advanced stealth design incorporating a range of Radar Cross-Section (RCS) reduction features. The inclined planes of the hull and superstructures, concealment of typical ship’s equipment, low profile housings for armaments, and enclosed sensor mast are chief amongst these. The Formidable class armament includes: an Oto Melara 76mm Super Rapid naval gun, 8x RGM-84C Harpoon SSMs, and 4x 8-cell Sylver A50 VLS containing a mixture of Aster 15 and Aster 30 SAMs. The ships are also capable of firing EuroTorp A224/S Mod 3 torpedoes, and carry a Sikorsky S-70B naval helicopter with ASW equipment (they formerly operated Eurocopter AS-332M Super Pumas).
The Formidable class are also highly automated, operated by a complement of only 71 crew (90 including air detachment). By way of comparison, a US Oliver Hazard Perry class has a nominal compliment of 176, an Australian Anzac class a complement of 163, and a French La Fayette class a complement of 141. The Formidable class are designed to operate as the naval centrepiece of the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) Integrated Knowledge-based Command and Control (IKC2) network. Integrating the advanced sensor packages and armaments of the ships to give commanders the ability to rapidly assess the battlespace and respond accordingly was a key design focus for the project. Dr Kenneth Kwok, Programme Director for Information Exploitation at the DSO national Laboratories noted: “The frigate has many state of the art weapon systems and sensor systems, but it is really how you put them together and integrate them into a fighting system that makes the difference”.
Six Formidable class frigates were built, with all but RSS Formidable being built by Singapore Technologies Marine (ST Marine) at their Benoi Shipyard, in Singapore. Construction of the class ran from late 2002 until mid-2006, with all ships being commissioned by January 2009. All are currently active, and form the 185 Squadron of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN). The RSS Formidable was Singapore’s contribution to the forces conducting RIMPAC 2012, operating in conjunction with participants from twenty-one other nations. Singapore’s incumbent Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, has confirmed that a Formidable class frigate (and the attached S-70B) will soon deploy to the Gulf of Aden as part of Singapore’s contribution to CTF-151.
This piece originally appeared as two separate posts at our Aussie partners’ Security Scholar blog, check it out for more photos on the above ship classes.
Heat waves, rising temperatures, and retreating ice grab headlines today. However, receding sea ice in the Arctic and a concurrent increase in shipping traffic will intensify attention on the globe’s (still) frigid northern reaches. Though the United States issued a forward-looking Arctic policy with National Security Presidential Directive 66 in 2009, it has not seriously faced the implications of matching these policy goals to strategic ends and backing its interests in the region with capital investments. Our Canadian allies have, and we should seek to learn from their experience.
Canada’s adaptation to the Arctic’s changing maritime geography is instructive. For starters, it serves as a reminder of Canada’s importance as an ally of the United States. Geography, heritage, and shared sacrifice have forged a special relationship between Canada and the United States and, like the Night’s Watch in the cold Northern reaches of the fictional world in Game of Thrones, I think we too infrequently give them proper credit for their support of our defense. This isn’t the first era requiring US-Canadian security cooperation in the Arctic – both countries jointly manned the “Distant Early Warning” Line of radar stations above the Arctic Circle during the Cold War.
The United States can look to Canada’s experience in matching ends, ways, and means in a new Arctic geography while under austere fiscal constraints to inform our own decisions as we contemplate our role in the region.
Canada is an Arctic nation, and this identity figures heavily in the Canada First Defence Strategy. Among the most important declarations in the strategy:
In Canada’s Arctic region, changing weather patterns are altering the environment, making it more accessible to sea traffic and economic activity. Retreating ice cover has opened the way for increased shipping, tourism and resource exploration, and new transportation routes are being considered, including through the Northwest Passage. While this promises substantial economic benefits for Canada, it has also brought new challenges from other shores. These changes in the Arctic could also spark an increase in illegal activity, with important implications for Canadian sovereignty and security and a potential requirement for additional military support.
Canadian Forces must have the capacity to exercise control over and defend Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. New opportunities are emerging across the region, bringing with them new challenges. As activity in northern lands and waters accelerates, the military will play an increasingly vital role in demonstrating a visible Canadian presence in this potentially resource rich region.
Canada First proposes Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) as the primary strategic means to accomplish the policy goal of demonstrating a visible Canadian presence in the Arctic. In early July of this year, the Canadian Government announced a preliminary contract to draft an execution strategy for the project and execute a design review of the proposed vessel, which will be based on the Norwegian Svalbard-class of ships. While representing a significant step towards realizing Canada’s goals in the Arctic, the proposed class has received a fair amount of domestic criticism. Some Canadians call the design too small, too light, and too slow. Others point to the vessel’s lack of armament, though some propose incorporating space for future weapons systems into the design. A final criticism of the class is that it is designed for light icebreaking duties, earning them the moniker “slushbreakers” in the Canadian American Strategic Review. Vessels designed for polar cruising typically conform to a “Polar Class” indicating a specific level of icebreaking capability. The proposed AOPS will be Polar Class 5, which means “Year round operation in medium first-year ice which may include old ice inclusions,” and represents the lowest year-round capability to negotiate polar waters.
The AOPS represents, as some Arctic watchers have noted, a compromise between an offshore patrol vessel and a dedicated Arctic warship. This is the essential difficulty in planning an Arctic force structure: though the ice is retreating, there is still plenty of it and significant seasonal variations present new design challenges to Naval and/or Coast Guard vessels. True Arctic vessels require completely different hull, mechanical and engineering systems that significantly impact their tactical performance. No bow mounted sonar. Poor speed and maneuverability. Et cetera. Indeed, given the fact that American and Soviet/Russian submarines have a long, distinguished history of operating under the sea ice, I would question a surface vessel’s ability to operate in a submarine threat environment while noisily plowing through ice floes. This is just one challenge among many to tactical surface operations in the Arctic, and they are probably the reason why (as noted at Information Dissemination yesterday) the US Navy hasn’t seriously considered itself an Arctic player beyond ICEX and some limited research and development projects.
There are similarities between Canadian and US Arctic policy. While, geographically speaking, Canada seems to have a stronger need for an Arctic presence due to its more extensive maritime claims in the region, the Bering Strait – a critical choke point – is in Alaska’s back yard. US policy for the Arctic includes the following as summarized in a recent report:
The USA names several military challenges with implications for the Arctic, including missile defense and early warning; deployment of sea and air systems for strategic sealift, strategic deterrence, maritime presence, and maritime security operations; and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.
It’s possible to fulfill many of these goals with submarines, but once the discussion veers towards sealift, missile defense, and freedom of navigation, a polar surface combatant seems a necessary part of an Arctic force structure. The United States will have to answer many key questions raised by these stated goals:
Should Navy, Coast Guard, or joint assets fulfill these roles?
How important is it to the United States to lead the exploration and militarization of the Arctic?
What metrics of civil use and sea ice change will determine the extent and timing of the United States’ Arctic presence?
What functions can/should an Arctic ship fulfill?
How does receding ice impact the existing Polar Classification system? What baseline of Polar Class is appropriate to Arctic warships/coast guard cutters?
Answering these questions is the work of strategy, and it’s telling that a recent letter signed by both of Alaska’s senators requested just such a strategy. If the United States does forge a detailed Arctic plan, it would do well to consider the experience of Canada’s government. Canada has pioneered the militarization of the Arctic region and revealed many of the challenges inherent in operating beyond “The Wall.”
LT Kurt Albaugh, USN is President of the Center for International Maritime Security, a Surface Warfare Officer and Instructor in the U.S. Naval Academy’s English Department. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.