Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Crafting a Counter-Piracy Regime in the Gulf of Guinea

The winds of global piracy have shifted, as attacks by West African pirates now exceed those of their Somali counterparts. The Nigeria-based pirates may not yet inspire Hollywood films, but they have prompted regional governments to take collective action. A June 24-25 summit in Yaounde, Cameroon brought representatives from the Economic Community of West African States, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission together to draft a Code of Conduct concerning the prevention of piracy, armed robbery against ships and illicit maritime activity; now signed by 22 states.

The Gulf of Guinea’s problem is not a dramatic rise in the number of attacks, but the expansion of a criminal enterprise once restricted to Nigerian waters into those of neighboring states. While support vessels operating near Nigeria’s oil fields have been pirate targets for decades, the hijacking and full-scale pilfering of oil tankers is a recent development. This modus operandi first appeared off Benin in December 2010 and has spread to the waters of Togo and Côte d’Ivoire in subsequent years. According to Risk Intelligence data, there were at least 93 tanker attacks in the Gulf of Guinea between December 2010 and May 2013, resulting in some 30 hijackings.

2013 Pirate Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea (IMB)
2013 Pirate Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea (IMB)

Tanker traffic is particularly dense in the Gulf of Guinea because Nigeria, the region’s largest oil producer, lacks the capacity to refine its own product. Crude oil is thus transported out of Nigeria, refined elsewhere, and then imported back into the country where it is sold at below market rates thanks to a government fuel subsidy. Nigerian criminal syndicates, backed by high-level political and economic patrons, are exploiting this situation by targeting specific tankers for hijacking, offloading their cargo to secondary vessels and then selling the product on the lucrative black market.

A conference of regional experts, held in preparation for the Cameroon summit, estimates that maritime crime is now bleeding the Gulf of Guinea’s states some $2-billion a year in lost port revenue, insurance premiums and security costs. West Africa has now reached a tipping point, like East Africa and South East Asia before it, where the geographic expansion of pirate activity demands a coordinated response. An examination of previous regional efforts to combat piracy thus serves as both a guide and warning for the Gulf of Guinea’s new endeavor.

Regional Counter-Piracy in Context

As a response to increased pirate attacks in the wake of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, 16 states drafted the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) in 2004, which came into effect 2006. The organization is credited with reversing the spike in piracy that coincided with the 2009 global economic downturn, as attacks against ships in the region have steadily fallen from 2010 to 2013. Notable in this success was the establishment in Singapore of an Information Sharing Center (ISC) that facilitates the collection, analysis and dissemination of piracy information among member states.

ReCAAP obligates its members to take legal measures against vessels and individuals who commit acts or robbery or piracy; to extradite such individuals at the request of another state; and to render mutual legal assistance in such cases. Donations from member states fund ReCAAP’s central budget – Singapore and Japan being the largest donors – with additional support coming from out-of-area signatories such as Norway and the Netherlands.

Concerns over state sovereignty have prevented closer cooperation with ReCAAP, as equipment procurement and counter-piracy patrols remain the responsibility of individual states, and national security forces are unable to pursue suspected pirates across maritime boundaries. ReCAAP is also hampered by the unwillingness of Malaysia and Indonesia—the two most pirate-prone states in the region—to ratify the agreement.

As Somali piracy rapidly expanded in the late 2000s, the international community hoped to replicate the success of ReCAAP through a counter-piracy agreement encompassing Eastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Steered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC) was adopted by nine states in January 2009 and has since expanded to 20 signatories spanning from Jordan to South Africa.

An independent study notes that the DCoC has made significant progress in information sharing, legal reform, and the training of coastguards. At least twelve member states have introduced legal changes to cover the crime of piracy. These developments have been credited for the higher percentage of arrested pirates now being tried and prosecuted in regional courts. The DCoC’s projects are largely financed by an IMO-managed trust fund of some $14-million, funded by maritime states such as Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, and South Korea.

Heading Back West

Influenced by these previous agreements, the Gulf of Guinea’s new Code of Conduct calls on signatories to: share and report relevant information; interdict vessels suspected of engaging in illegal activities; ensure those committing such acts are apprehended and prosecuted; and facilitate the care and repatriation of seafarers subject to illegal activity.

As was done in Singapore, the West and Central African leaders aim to build a regional maritime security center, based in Cameroon, which will facilitate information sharing among governments. The center, it is hoped, will address the massive underreporting of pirate attacks that occurs in the Gulf of Guinea and improve regional maritime domain awareness. However, the examination of previous efforts reveals that regional competition and suspicion are likely to hamper this process. Malaysia refused to join ReCAAP because it viewed the ISC in Singapore as a duplicative competitor to the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center based in Kuala Lumpur. Similarly, disagreements within the DCoC resulted in the establishment of three separate information sharing centers in Yemen, Kenya and Tanzania.

PMSCs have helped curb piracy off Somalia, but they are not allowed in the Gulf of Guinea
PMSCs have helped curb piracy off Somalia, but they are not allowed in the Gulf of Guinea

Absent from West Africa’s new agreement was any mention of the counter-piracy role that Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) might play in the Gulf of Guinea. Foreign armed guards are not allowed in the territorial waters of local nations, forcing transiting vessels to hire military personnel from regional states and embark and disembark them along route. Several PMSCs were confident that the new agreement would allow them to operate inside the territorial waters of West African states, but concerns over state sovereignty and vested interests in the current system likely prevented such an arrangement from materializing.

Nor are international naval operations likely to be the panacea to West African piracy. At the summit, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara called on the international community “to show the same firmness in the Gulf of Guinea as displayed in the Gulf of Aden, where the presence of international naval forces has helped to drastically reduce acts of piracy.” However, NATO and the EU have already begun to drawdown assets from their Horn of Africa operations, set to terminate at the end of 2014, and there does not appear to be the political will for cross-continental redeployment. Furthermore, while almost all Somali pirate attacks occur on the high seas, the vast majority of attacks in the Gulf of Guinea take place in territorial waters, primarily those of Nigeria. This serves to render foreign naval vessels both unwelcome, due to local concerns for state sovereignty, and ineffective, as they are unable to operate so close to the shore.

Live Together, Die Alone

The absence of PMSCs and international naval operations means that a counter-piracy regime for the Gulf of Guinea will have to be local and regionally owned. This is a desirable and more sustainable course of action, but it means that the new Code of Conduct must contend with the low level of maritime security capacity that permeates across the region. Nigeria is the only state in the region that possesses a frigate, corvette, or aerial surveillance capacity. However, only an estimated 28% of Abuja’s navy is operational at any given time, meaning that maritime operations usually amount to intermittent sweeps, rather than a continuous patrol presence. The other littoral nations’ “navies” are more accurately described as coastguards. Taken together, West and Central African states are estimated to have fewer than 25 large security vessels available for interdiction efforts. In terms of force multiplying, Nigeria has engaged in joint patrols with Benin since 2011, but there was little indication in the new agreement that other states will join these operations.

Togo's tiny navy is now on the front line in fight against piracy
Togo’s tiny navy is now on the front line in fight against piracy

As was the case with the DCoC, the IMO has established a trust fund for the Gulf of Guinea that will allow donor states to offset capacity building costs, and it is advisable that the U.S, EU, Japan and others use this as a common channel to coordinate their existing security efforts in the region. Not limiting itself to carrots, the U.S is also trying to exert pressure on Nigeria by issuing a 90-day ultimatum (set to expire at the end of August) to improve port security or face the diversion of U.S-flagged shipping.

While piracy is now a regional issue for the Gulf of Guinea, this ultimatum highlights the fact that the drivers of the crime and its ultimate solution both lay in Nigeria. The country’s fuel subsidies and the lack of local refining capacity are at the root of West Africa’s petroleum black market, and endemic corruption has protected the economic and political elites suspected of profiting from it. Inequality and local grievances in the Niger Delta have been only superficially addressed by payments from a government amnesty program, leaving a massive pool of unemployed young men who see piracy and oil theft as their ticket out of poverty.

Off the coast of Somalia, international naval operations, regional agreements and private armed guards have helped to suppress and contain piracy. In the Gulf of Guinea, enhanced regional cooperation – through information sharing, capacity building, and joint patrols – should serve to roll back the geographical expansion of Nigeria’s pirate gangs. In both cases however, a permanent solution rests within the state that gave rise to regional piracy. Closer maritime coordination in the Gulf of Guinea is a welcome development, but the road to secure marine environment will ultimately have to run through Nigeria.

James Bridger is a maritime security consultant and piracy specialist at Delex Systems Inc. He can be reached at

The Finnish Exception

Finnish Rauma-class missile boat FNS Porvoo
         Finnish Rauma-class missile boat FNS Porvoo

A consistent challenge for NATO has been the issue of involving non-NATO partners in its interoperability and capability boosting activities. When NATO undertakes important operations at the behest of the UN Security Council, non-members have contributed forces – for example, Japanese and the Republic of Korea vessels have participated in Operation Ocean Shield, NATO’s response to piracy in the Gulf of Aden. The Partnership for Peace and similar initiatives also go some way toward enhancing political cooperation. But when it comes to training and the development of best practices, non-members have been reluctant to engage with the Alliance.

The Finnish Navy is the exception to the rule. Despite its lack of NATO membership, Finland has for many years participated in the work of the NATO Centre of Excellence for Operations in Confined and Shallow Waters (COE CSW). Coordinated by Allied Command Transformation, the Centres of Excellence are multinational institutions that, according to NATO, “train and educate leaders and specialists from NATO member and partner countries…” and assist in expanding the Alliance’s capacity to operate in varying environments under diverse conditions. Many of these COEs take the form of research hubs, with experts spending time not just training personnel from NATO and its partner countries, but also working on policy and technological solutions to specific challenges currently facing the Alliance. There are currently 17 accredited COEs, though another three are awaiting accreditation.

Based in Kiel, Germany, the COE CSW is concerned with a number of issues relevant to naval operations, such as anti-submarine warfare, mine countermeasures, as well as force and harbour protection. Aside from the Finnish Navy, participants include Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, and the United States. It must be noted that not only is Finland the only non-member to participate in any NATO COE, but the COE CSW is also the only Centre in which Finland participates. Why is this?

A possible explanation is that the Finnish Navy has a demonstrably strong interest in operations related to confined and shallow waters. Illustrative of this, in previous years Finland has led the organization of Northern Coasts, annual large-scale naval exercises that involve several countries and take place in various parts of the Baltic Sea. The explicit objective of these exercises is to improve interoperability in confined and shallow waters among participating units and countries. By way of contrast, Finland has not participated in any of NATO’s annual Steadfast Jazz exercises, which involve all branches of military forces and also take place in the Baltic region. Aside from wishing to preserve cordial relations with the Russian Federation, Finland’s policy of abstaining from Steadfast Jazz may have a lot to do with the exercises’ lack of simulated operations in confined and shallow waters.

There are valuable lessons that can be drawn from the Finnish example. If NATO seeks to intensify engagement with partner countries, it will be necessary to identify the security interests of those states and then market NATO’s relevant capabilities to them. The activities of the COE CSW are appealing to Finland because of that country’s particular security interests. Had Finland instead been approached to engage with the NATO COE in Cold Weather Operations, it is less likely Finland would have agreed to participate, in part because the Finnish military would have contributed much expertise in exchange for comparatively less benefit.

Understanding that the Finnish Navy participates in the COE CSW because it views it as a net benefit for Finland, NATO’s Allied Command Transformation (ACT) – charged with promoting interoperability – could advance NATO’s external relations by carefully marketing NATO COEs to relevant partners. For example, with the Ukrainian government actively seeking to achieve energy independence from the Russian Federation, it could be worthwhile to seek Ukrainian participation in the newly accredited NATO Energy Security COE in Vilnius, Lithuania. Practical cooperation through these centres could build momentum toward greater political cooperation. With the diverse array of expertise and specializations represented by the accredited NATO COEs, the possibilities to engage partners are endless.

Paul Pryce is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada. With degrees in political science from universities in both Canada and Estonia, he has previously worked in conflict resolution as a Research Fellow with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. His research interests include African security issues and NATO-Russia relations.

This article was cross-posted by permission from and appeared in its original form at the Atlantic Council of Canada. Any views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and the news agencies and do not necessarily represent those of the Atlantic Council of Canada.

A Korean Peninsula Combined Fleet

The ROKS Dokdo and USS George Washington on exercise together.
The ROKS Dokdo and USS George Washington on exercise together.

In my previous entry on the U.S.-ROK naval strategy after the OPCON, I argued for a combined fleet whereby the U.S. and ROK Navies, together with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), may share their unique resources and cultures to develop flexible responses against future threats by Kim Jŏng-ŭn. Since I have been getting mixed responses with regards to the viability of the aforementioned proposal, I felt compelled to flesh out this concept in a subsequent entry. Here, I will examine command unity and operational parity within the proposed combined fleet.

First, as Chuck Hill points out in his response to my prior entry, should the three navies coalesce to form a combined fleet, the issue of command unity may not be easily overcome because “[w]hile the South Korean and Japanese Navies might work together under a U.S. Commander, I don’t see the Japanese cooperating under a South Korean flag officer.” Indeed, given the mutual rancor over historical grievances, and the ongoing territorial row over Dokdo/Takeshima Island, both Japan and the ROK may be unwilling to entertain this this arrangement. However, this mutual rancor, if left unchecked, could potentially undermine coherent tactical and strategic responses against further acts of aggression by Kim Jŏng-ŭn. It is for this reason that Japan and the ROK should cooperate as allies if they truly desire peace in East Asia.

So how can the three countries successfully achieve command unity within the combined fleet? One solution would be for an American admiral to assume command of the fleet. However, while it is true that the ROKN and the JMSDF have participated in joint exercises under the aegis of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, this arrangement would stymie professional growth of both the ROKN and JMSDF admirals who lack professional expertise comparable to their American counterparts. In particular, given that ROKN admirals will assume wartime responsibility for their fleets after the 2015 OPCON transfer, such arrangement would be unhealthy for the ROKN because it would only lead to further dependence on the U.S. Navy.

Instead, a more viable solution, as Hill suggests, would be for the three navies to operate on a “regular rotation schedule…with the prospective commander serving as deputy for a time before assuming command.” This arrangement would somewhat alleviate the existing tension between the ROKN and JMSDF officers. Furthermore, the rotation schedule may serve as an opportunity for ROKN and JMSDF admirals to prove their mettle as seaworthy commanders.

One successful example that demonstrates the efficacy of the above proposal is the ROKN’s recent anti-piracy operational experience with the Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 in the Gulf of Aden from 2009 to the present. In 2011, ROKN SEALs successfully conducted a hostage rescue operation against Somali pirates. ROKN admirals also assumed command of the Task Force twice, in 2010 and 2012 respectively.[1] According to Terrence Roehrig, the ROKN’s recent anti-piracy operational experience has “provide[d] the ROK navy with valuable operational experience [in] preparation for North Korean actions, while also gaining from participating in and leading multilateral operations.”[2]

However, it should be noted that it is “unclear whether ROK counter-piracy operations [with CTF 151] had a significant deterrent effect and, if so, it [was] likely to be limited.”[3] While CTF 151 may provide a plausible model for command unity for the combined fleet concept, it does not fully address potential operational and logistical problems in the event of another armed conflict on the peninsula. Moreover, while frequent joint exercises and exchange programs have lessened operational and linguistic problems, so long as the ROKN continues to be overshadowed by the Army-centric culture and structure within the ROK Armed Forces, it cannot function effectively as a vital component of the U.S.-ROK-Japan alliance in deterring future aggression by Kim Jŏng-ŭn.

To achieve operational parity within the combined fleet, I recommend the following. First, the United States could help bolster the naval aviation capabilities of both navies. The JMSDF has been expanding its number of helicopter carriers, while the ROKN is expanding its fleet of Dokdo-class landing ships, supposedly capable of carrying an aviation squadron or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in addition to its naval air wing. However, the absence of carrier-based fighter-bomber capabilities may pose problems for the combined fleet concept because it deprives the fleet of flexible tools to respond expeditiously to emergent threats. Thus, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps could equip the two navies with the existing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets or the new F-35s.

Second, both Japan and the ROK should bolster their amphibious and special operations forces (SOF) capabilities. As the successful hostage rescue operation in January, 2011, of the crew of the Korean chemical tanker Samho Jewelry by the ROKN SEAL team demonstrates, naval SOF capabilities may provide the combined fleet with a quick reaction force to deal with unforeseen contingencies. Furthermore, amphibious capabilities similar to the U.S. MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) may provide both the ROK and Japan with the capabilities to proactively deter and not merely react to future DPRK provocations. That the Japanese Rangers[4] have recently trained for amphibious landing with U.S. Marines, while the ROK MND (Ministry of National Defense) has granted more autonomy to the ROK Marines, can be construed as steps in the right direction. As if to bear this out, there are reports that the ROK MND plans to establish a Marine aviation brigade by 2015 to enhance the ROKMC’s transport and strike capabilities.

In this blog entry, I examined command arrangement and operational parity to explore ways in which a combined U.S.-ROK-Japanese fleet may successfully deter potential DPRK threats. Certainly, my proposal does not purport to offer perfect solutions to the current crisis in the Korean peninsula. Nevertheless, it is a small step towards achieving a common goal—preserving peace and stability which all East Asian nations cherish.

Jeong Lee is a freelance international security blogger living in Pusan, South Korea and is also a Contributing Analyst for Wikistrat’s Asia-Pacific Desk. Lee’s writings have appeared on American Livewire, East Asia Forum, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, and the World Outline.
[1] Terrence Roehrig ‘s chapter in Scott Snyder and Terrence Roehrig et. al. Global Korea: South Korea’s Contributions to International Security. New York: Report for Council on Foreign Relations Press, October 2012, p. 35
[2] ibid., pp. 41
[3] ibid.
[4] Japan does not have its own Marine Corps.

Reconfiguring the US-ROK Naval Strategy for the Wartime OPCON Transfer (Part I)

On June 1st, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Republic of Korea (ROK) Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin met to discuss the creation of an “alternative joint operation body…similar to that of the current South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command.” According to the Yŏnhap News Agency, should this change occur, the ROK Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will lead the new combatant command with the “top U.S. commander in South Korea serving as his deputy.”

Although I have written previously that the United States should retain the wartime OPCON (Operational Control) for the sake of flexible strategic responses against the DPRK, it appears unlikely that the joint decision between the United States and the ROK to transfer the OPCON to the ROK military will be reversed. So how can the U.S.-ROK naval forces successfully adapt to the change?

Answering this question necessitates that we first examine the existing ROK naval capabilities. To the extent that the ROK Navy’s (ROKN) capabilities warrant our attention, it can be argued that this is due to the ROK’s recent military build-up. It should also be noted that the ROK’s naval might can be seen as a reflection of its commercial interests abroad. Indeed, Terrence Roehrig avers that the ROKN’s blue-water capabilities, as seen in its commitment to the ongoing counter-piracy campaigns in the Gulf of Aden, might suggest a link between and its naval might and the ROK’s need to protect its commercial interests and its international standing as a middle power. While there may be some truth to his argument, a more plausible explanation might be that naval power still remains “the best possible means of ensuring the region’s safety without triggering any further escalation.” After all, the ROKN has more than proved its mettle during limited naval skirmishes in the late 1990s and early 2000s over the contested Northern Limit Line (NLL). It is not surprising, therefore, that the ROKN remains the most battle-hardened of the four ROK armed service branches.

Nonetheless, the ROKN still has a long way to go before it establishes itself as a truly independent armed service. As the sinking of the corvette Ch’ŏnan and the shelling of Yŏnp’yŏng in 2010 suggest, the ROKN still lacks the ability to conduct anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and to successfully counter DPRK’s asymmetric threats. The ROKN’s operational shortcomings are particularly troubling in that they were highlighted by the Korean People’s Army Navy, suffering its own limited operability due to its aging fleet and lack of unity within its command structure.

However, as my January piece for the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs and Michael Raska’s East Asia Forum article argue, the greatest barriers to service excellence for the ROKN may be South Korea’s uneven defense spending, and operational and institutional handicaps within the conservative ROK officer corps. Because the ROK Armed Forces remains Army-centric, whereby its command structure and logistics fall under the control of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (ROK CJCS), who has always been an Army general,[1] the ROKN has yet to achieve autonomy as a truly independent service within the existing arrangement. Such barriers do not bode well for the ROK’s most battle-hardened service branch because it ultimately stymies much-needed flexibility and creativity.

In light of both Kim Jŏng-ŭn’s constant threats and the newly proposed Combined Forces Command structure, readjustments at both operational and strategic levels may be required for the U.S.-ROK naval forces to successfully deter further acts of aggression by Kim Jŏng-ŭn. One such readjustment, given ROKN’s weaknesses in its ASW capabilities and counter-asymmetric warfare, would be to redirect ROKN’s focus away from its blue-water ambitions to bolster its coastal defense capabilities. But doing so would jeopardize ROK’s maritime interests abroad and would foster the uneven growth of ROKN by encouraging uneven emphasis on one naval element at the expense of another.

Phase 1: A PHOTEX; Phase 2: The World!
           Phase 1: A PHOTOEX; Phase 2: The World!

Instead, a more pragmatic alternative would be for South Korea and the United States, together with Japan, to establish a combined fleet. While it is true that South Korea and Japan remain at odds over historical grievances and the territorial row over Dokdo/Takeshima, given that the three navies frequently interact through joint exercises, such as RIMPAC, and other exchange programs, so the creation of such fleet in the face of a common threat should not be ruled out. Under this arrangement, each navy would buttress inter-operability by sharing its unique resources and culture with each other. Indeed, the proposed combined fleet would enable ROKN admirals to effectively exercise wartime command over their own fleets, while at the same time help them learn from their sister navies [see note below]. Even more important for the United States, given that “the U.S. operation within the Korean Peninsula is likely to remain a peacekeeping one,” such arrangement would “ensure that [the United States Navy’s] presence is seen and not necessarily felt.” Last but not least, the proposed combined fleet could serve as a quick reaction force in the event of unforeseen crises.

Ultimately, in order for the U.S.-ROK naval forces to effectively counter the threats posed by the DPRK, the ROK Armed Forces itself must undergo a radical transformation. Doing so necessitates that it gradually move away from its Army-centric culture to accommodate jointness among the four services. It must also come up with a coherent budget to sustain its capabilities.

In short, the 2015 wartime OPCON transfer may pose challenges for the U.S.-ROK naval forces to successfully counter and deter future provocations by Kim Jŏng-ŭn. Nevertheless, it also presents an opportunity for those who would seize it. Perhaps this evolution in the extant U.S.-ROK alliance may allow the ROKN to truly come of age as an independent fighting service.

Jeong Lee is a freelance international security blogger living in Pusan, South Korea and is also a Contributing Analyst for Wikistrat’s Asia-Pacific Desk. Lee’s writings have appeared on American Livewire, East Asia Forum, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, and the World Outline.

Note:  In a subsequent blog entry, I will explore ways in which the US-ROK Navies, together with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), can best optimize their capabilities within the aforementioned combined fleet structure.

[1] There has been one exception to this rule. In 1993, Kim Young-sam appointed an Air Force general to serve as CJCS. However, after much resistance from the Army officer corps, no general or admiral from any other service has served as ROK CJCS since 1994.