Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

A Post-Sequestration Blueprint for a Leaner and Smarter Military

Five months after the much-dreaded sequestration went into effect, many defense analysts and military officials alike are worried about the negative repercussions of the drastic budget cuts on military readiness. In his latest commentary, the rightwing commentator Alan Caruba declared that “The U.S. military is on life support.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also argued in his Statement on Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) that “sequester-level cuts would ‘break’ some parts of the strategy, no matter how the cuts were made [since] our military options and flexibility will be severely constrained.”

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel answers reporters' questions during a Pentagon press briefing on the recent Strategic Choices. Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., right, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Hagel for the briefing. (DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett)
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel answers reporters’ questions during a Pentagon press briefing on the recent Strategic Choices. Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., right, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Hagel for the briefing. (DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

To its credit, the SCMR seemed to hint at operational and structural adjustments underway by offering two options—trading “size for high-end capacity” versus trading modernization plans “for a larger force better able to project power.” Nevertheless, one important question which went unasked was whether or not the US Armed Forces alone should continue to play GloboCop.

The current geostrategic environment has become fluid and fraught with uncertainties. As Zhang Yunan avers, China as a “moderate revisionist” will not likely replace the United States as the undisputed global champion due to myriad factors. As for the United States, in the aftermath of a decade-long war on terror and the ongoing recession, we can no longer say with certainty that the United States will still retain its unipolar hegemony in the years or decades to come.

That said, Secretary Hagel is correct that the United States military may need to become leaner in the face of harsh fiscal realities. To this must be added another imperative: The US Armed Forces must fight smarter and must do so in ways that may further America’s strategic and commercial interests abroad.

So how can the United States military fight smarter and leaner?

COCOMs
Possible Combatant Command Realignments

First, given massive troop reductions whereby the Army personnel may be reduced to 380,000 and the Marine Corps “would bottom out at 150,000,” while at the same, the DoD is seriously considering restructuring existing Combatant Commands (COCOMs), it no longer makes sense to deploy or train troops for protracted counterinsurgency campaigns or foreign occupations. Instead, should another transnational terrorist group or a rogue state threaten homeland security, the United States could rely on SOF (Special Operations Forces) commandos and UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to selectively target and neutralize potential threats. While the SOF and UAV surgical raids should not be viewed as substitutes for deft diplomacy, they can provide cheaper and selective power projection capabilities.

Second, since the United States Navy may be forced to “reduce the number of carrier strike groups from 11 to 8 or 9,” it can meet its power projection needs by encouraging cooperation among its sister navies and by bolstering their naval might. One example of such partnerships would be to form a combined fleet whereby America’s sister navies “may share their unique resources and cultures to develop flexible responses against future threats” posed by our adversaries.

Third, the United States may encounter more asymmetric threats in the form of cyber attacks, CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear) attacks, and may also be subjected to attacks from within by homegrown terrorists and drug cartels—all of which may wreak havoc and may even cripple America’s domestic infrastructures. As retired Admiral James Stavridis argues, such asymmetric attacks may stem from convergence of the global community. Such threats require that the United States take the fight to its adversaries by cooperating with its allies to “upend threat financing” and by strengthening its cyber capabilities.

Fourth, where rogue states such as Iran, Syria and North Korea, are concerned, the United States could implement what General James Mattis refers to as the “proxy strategy.” Under this arrangement, while “America’s general visibility would decline,” its allies and proxies would police the trouble spots on its behalf.

Fifth, the United States must be prepared to defend homeland against potential missile attacks from afar. The United States may be vulnerable to hostile aggressions from afar following North Korea’s successful testing of its long-range rocket last December and Iran’s improved missile capabilities. Thus, improving its missile defense system will allow greater flexibility in America’s strategic responses both at home and abroad.

Last but not least, the United States Armed Forces needs to produce within its ranks officers who are quick to grasp and adapt to fluid geostrategic environments. One solution, as Thomas E. Ricks proposes, would be to resort to a wholesale firing of incompetent generals and admirals. However, it should be noted that rather than addressing the problem, such dismissals would ultimately breed resentment towards not only the senior brass but civilian overseers, which will no doubt exacerbate civil-military relations that has already soured to a considerable degree. Instead, a better alternative would be reform America’s officer training systems so that they may produce commanders who possess not only professional depth but breadth needed to adapt to fluid tactical, operational, and strategic tempos.

ohmanmarchjpg-4e06c3b3e4dd8566
“The US Military Establishment’s Greatest Foes” By Jack Ohman/Tribune Media Services

Despite the hysteric outcries from the service chiefs and many defense analysts, in the end, the sequestration may not be as dire as it sounds. In fact, Gordon Adams argues that after several years of reductions, “the defense budget…creeps upward about half a percentage point every year from FY (Fiscal Year) 2015 to FY 2021.” Simply stated, one way or the other, the US Armed Forces may eventually get what it asks for–as it always has been the case. Nonetheless, the sequestration “ordeal”—if we should call it as such—offers the US military object lessons on frugality and flexibility. Indeed, American generals and admirals would do well to listen to General Mattis who recently admonished them to “stop sucking their thumbs and whining about sequestration, telling the world we’re weak,” and get on with the program.

Note: This article was originally published in its original form in the Naval Institute’s blog and was cross-posted by permission.

Jeong Lee is a freelance writer and is also a Contributing Analyst for Wikistrat’s Asia-Pacific Desk. Lee’s writings on US defense and foreign policy issues and inter-Korean affairs have appeared on various online publications including East Asia Forum, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, the World Outline and CIMSEC’s NextWar blog.

Gaps in the Wall: The Capability Upgrade Challenges for the Philippine Navy

Just as Subic Bay is no longer in it's illustrated prime, the Navy of the Philippines has seen better days.
Just as Subic Bay is no longer in its once geo-strategic prime, the Navy of the Philippines has seen better days.

As history records it, the Philippines has traditionally occupied the roles of both a logistical base and buffer for the West in modern 20th-Century conflicts. As one of the first U.S. outposts to be attacked and overrun in World War II, and later serving as one of the largest regional ports and airbases during the Cold War, the country finds itself on the cusp of the Asian Century serving once more as part of a virtual wall, this time holding back China’s slow but inexorable encroachment upon the second island chain.

Article II of U.S. and the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) calls for both nations to sustain territorial control and maintain a basic self-defense capability. It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the Philippines had one of the most advanced and well-equipped armed services in Southeast Asia. In the days following World War II, the geographical importance of the island nation and close ties to Washington brought a wealth of weapons aid to Manila while neighbors were rebuilding their war-torn infrastructure and fighting off internal security threats.

Fast-forward to the present-day Philippines and the decades of underfunding and neglect are painfully apparent. The causes are numerous; most notably endemic corruption, a weak economy and focus on internal stability operations, but the end result is that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is unable to put up a basic credible defense of the nation’s territory. Among other things, this undermines America’s China-containment strategy requiring allies to use political, and if needed, military options to mitigate a de-facto surrender of territory or economic resources.

In 2003 under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration, the AFP embarked upon what is now known as the Capability Upgrade Program (CUP). The plan’s core described eighteen blocks that span from Human Resources to doctrine and training all the way to force and infrastructure modernization. The funding would come from a variety of sources, including excise taxes and profits made from the joint venture Malampaya Oil Fields located off the coast of Palawan facing the Western Philippine Sea (WPS). A decade later, President Benigno Aquino the III’s term in office has most progressed this effort.

While theoretically well-funded, the CUP is hamstrung by several factors: a convoluted, inefficient, and supplier-unfriendly logistics and acquisition process; the interference of serving politicos seeking to direct purchase decisions for their own benefits; systemic graft and corruption within public and military agencies; a struggling economy; and, competing needs to maintain and upgrade basic infrastructure and services required throughout the rest of the country.

What’s missing for the Philippine Navy (PN):

 

BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a Hamilton class US Coast Guard-Weather High Endurance Cutter.
BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a Hamilton class US Coast Guard-Weather High Endurance Cutter.

Foremost lacking for the PN are surface combatants with a baseline contemporary self-defense and offensive capability. With the exception of the recent U.S. Coast Guard WHEC cutters and South Korean attack craft, most of the Philippine Navy’s fleet is well past the age (some are as old as 1943) where other nations would have decommissioned the vessels on safety and maintenance principles alone. None of the vessels are missile-armed nor anti-submarine equipped, and with the exception of recent acquisitions, most combat suites and sensors date back to the 1960s or earlier. For most of the fleet, major organic fires are limited to 5″ guns and smaller caliber cannons and machine guns. PF-16 Ramon Alcaraz (the newest of the WHECs) will receive the first upgraded shipborne weapons in several decades: two Mk 38 Mod 2 remotely controlled Bushmaster cannons.

Immediate major combatant vessel acquisitions would likely be in the frigate class. Initially, there was consideration to purchase another nation’s Excess Defense Articles (EDA) – in the running were USN Perry class and Italian Maestraele frigates; but the recent experience with converting and refurbishing the former Coast Guard WHECs (particularly the delay with PF-16, the former USCG Dallas) educated PN and political leadership that buying new makes more fiscal sense then perpetuating the process of keeping older vessels going beyond their projected life-cycle. However, a recent boost in US military assistance aid could result in a third WHEC being obtained while bidding continues on the new frigate build.

While quite a few manufacturers responded, the serious bids seemed to come down to a few – including Spain’s Avante 1800, Israel’s SAAR V, South Korea’s Incheon class FFG and unspecified options from Australia, Croatia and the United States .

One of the benefits of having more recent used articles is that crews finally get training and experience on contemporary marine technology, such as Gas Turbine powerplants, and even the WHEC’s older combat integration system is still years ahead of what’s present in the rest of the fleet.

The Coast Guard Dilemma

What the PN also needs is more Off-shore Patrol Vessels (OPVs). The proposed re-integration of the Philippine Coast Guard back in the Department of National Defense (DND) highlights the service’s severe lack of assets to cover basic patrol and presence operations, never mind being able to deal with operations-other-than war (OOTW) such as the Sabah Crisis. A stop-gap purchase of a used French Patrol Vessel will help to restore PCG capability. Projected purchases include new build French 83m and 24m vessels and ten unspecified new patrol boats from Japan.

As an unintended consequence, the PCG’s dearth of assets caused escalation in clashes with China. Confrontations over resources such as the Scarborough Fishing shoals forced the AFP to initially send assets that had the range and speed to reach the intrusion point in a timely fashion. This meant sending gray hulls like the newly arrived PF-15 WHEC while Beijing had only dispatched China Marine Surveillance hulls. The end result is that the Philippines inadvertently looked like they were escalating by using overwhelming force.

Aviation Support and Maritime Surveillance

Naval Aviation assets are sorely lacking. Due to attrition and the need to gain efficiencies with remaining inventory, serviceable military aircraft lie mostly in Philippine Air Force (PAF) inventories. The PN would especially benefit from long-range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPAs) to effectively cover areas such as fishing zones in the WPS and the contested Spratleys. Currently, a few BO-105 rotary craft and BN Islanders are providing surveillance roles. In 2012, a contract to deliver three AW-109 Augusta helicopters for utility and ship-borne aviation was concluded. These assets would presumably be paired with the new WHECs to deliver surveillance and potentially stand-off strike capability.

There is a strong reliance on the PAF to provide the air defense and monitoring component – namely replacement military radar sites to complement the existing ATC network and tactical jets for basic offense and defense. There are enormous gaps in Strike and non-existent Air Defense/Interception assets. The Air Force is slogging through a long-convoluted deal with Korean Aerospace International for purchase of the T/A-50 Golden Eagle – a spinoff of the Lockheed Martin F-16 Falcon. The T/A-50 would play the role of a Lead-In Fighter Trainer/Surface Attack Aircraft (LIFT/SAA), paving the way to indoctrinate pilots in a future Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) yet to be selected.

Lift, Logistics and Basing

For logistical and lift needs, the PN has also been investigating MRVs (Multi-Role Vessels) such as the Indonesian Makassar Landing Platform Dock (LPD), a useful asset in both combat and Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Response (HA/DR) operations – especially so for a nation often in the path of tropical typhoons. This is a gap that could be filled locally; an appropriate ferry with roll-on/roll-off ramps and a helipad could be converted or purpose-built.

Additional basing and expanded facilities in the Spratleys and the Palawan peninsula are needed to complement any increase in force modernization. Ports, airfields, and refueling points within and  facing the WPS would reduce reaction times and increase operational range of any assigned assets. With current basing, major combat assets face a 200 nm transit to get to contested areas.

As an extreme example of infrastructure need, the Philippine Marine “garrison” in the contested islands is actually a grounded 1940s Tank Landing Ship (LST). A proposed expanded logistics and supply base in Ulugan Bay on Palawan would allow direct access to the WPS (instead of sailing around the island), as well as proximity security to the nearby Malampaya Oil Fields. And after years of commercial use, the Philippine government is contemplating more useful contingent access to the former naval base at Subic, which would allow visiting allies more than just courtesy access to one of the finest deepwater ports in the region.

Despite all that, successful defense projects are possible to fulfill compelling strategic goals, even with limited resources. The Coast Watch South initiative shows that the AFP can deliver a competent maritime security environment with political and modest but sufficient fiscal support. The latter two are the critical factors to CUP success.

Time is the Challenge

It is the glacial pace of modernization that is ultimately the biggest threat to the CUP. As time passes, the opportunity cost to bring the major budget requisitions to fruition is rising ever higher. From a political perspective, there is the perpetual notion that EDA and stop-gap efforts are “good enough;” permissive factors in the past which in fact led to the current sad state of affairs for the AFP. The Philippine Congress and Aquino III’s administration are now suffering from sticker shock as they collectively realize what it will take to bring a “credible defense” to reality. That was most notable in the President’s most recent State of the Nation Address. The competing needs of domestic issues and persistent problems in the economy, healthcare, jobs and housing could end up diverting funding away from the CUP. With only two years left in Aquino’s term, the next Administration could have an agenda brings the progress made to a screeching halt. The cascade implications to the U.S. Pivot to the Pacific could put more burden upon the US Navy and Air Force to take up activities and responsibilities that rightfully belong to the treaty partner.

Juramentado is the pseudonym for Armando J. Heredia, a civilian observer of naval affairs. He is an IT Risk and Information Security practitioner, with a background in the defense and financial services industries.  The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, any particular nation’s government or related agency.

Introducing the Izumo

 

Kyodo News/Associated Press
Kyodo News/Associated Press

Meet the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force’s (JMSDF) newest and largest member, the Izumo (DDH-183). With its 248-meter flight deck and 27,000-ton displacement, the new helicopter destroyer – capable of carrying up to 14 helicopters – dwarfs its 197-meter Hyuga-class cousins (the Hyuga, commissioned in 2009 and its sister ship Ise, which entered service in 2011).

As with Japan’s two other helicopter destroyers, the Izumo does not have fighter-launching catapults and is unable to support fixed-wing aircraft. Even so, eventual conversion of any of Japan’s three helicopter destroyers is not out of the question. Given the constraints of their design (such as small elevators and hangars), the conversion of the two older ships would be more difficult, while the Izumo’s larger dimensions could eventually accommodate aircraft such as the F-35B, the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the new fifth-generation fighter.

Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images
Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images

The launch is sure to cause concern in China, which remains embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. The islands are administered by Japan, but claimed by both sides. Although Tokyo has been careful to include tasks such as the transport of personnel and supplies in response to natural disasters high on the list of the new ship’s priorities, the destroyer presents a potent addition to the operational capabilities and strategic reach of the JMSDF. Crucially, it helps Tokyo keep pace with – or indeed, stay ahead of – China’s own rapidly growing navy. All recent and forthcoming changes to Japan’s defense policy aside, keeping pace with Beijing has proven a challenge as the country continues to feel the squeeze of its frail economy and the limits of its 1%-of-GDP defense spending cap. Even so, the Izumo may provide renewed impetus for those who believe that East Asia is already knee-deep in an arms race, as well as those who believe that Japan is emerging from its long pacifist slumber.

At the time of writing, an official reaction from Beijing has yet to be made, but it will be interesting to read in light of the still-fresh images of China’s second aircraft carrier under construction. Whatever the official line may be, the symbolism of choosing 6 August – the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 – to unveil Japan’s largest post-WWII ‘aircraft carrier’ is sure not to go unnoticed in Beijing.

Below is a comparison of the ship with the Ise in a photograph taken by the author in Kure in March this year.

Despite their different angles, both photographs hopefully provide a decent overview of the two ships and offer sharp eyes enough material for comparison. Even from this distance, the difference in size is apparent. Any insightful observations from our readers are welcome in the comments below.

Miha Hribernik is Research Coordinator at the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) in Brussels and an analyst at the geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

Post-OPCON Strategy for the US-ROK Alliance

(This article is cross-posted by permission of the United States Naval Institute Blog and appeared in its original form on July 25th here.)

According to the Yŏnhap News Agency last Thursday, ROK Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin “confirmed…that he had requested the U.S. government” to postpone the OPCON (Operational Command) transfer slated for December, 2015. Citing from the same source, the National Journal elaborated further by saying Minister Kim believed that the United States was open to postponing the transfer because “a top U.S. government official leaked to journalists”  Minister Kim’s request for the delay.

Chuck Hagel and Kim Kwan-jin
Ministerial-level meeting
There may be several reasons for the ROK government’s desire to postpone the OPCON transfer. First, the critics of the OPCON transfer both in Washington and the ROK argue that this transition is “dangerously myopic” as it ignores “the asymmetric challenges that [North Korea] presents.” Second, given the shrinking budget, they argue that the ROK may not have enough time to improve its own C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computer and Intelligence) capabilities, notwithstanding a vigorous procurement and acquisition of state-of-the-art weaponry and indigenous research and development programs for its local defense industries. Third, South Korea’s uneven defense spending, and operational and institutional handicaps within the conservative ROK officer corps have prevented South Korea from developing a coherent strategy and the necessary wherewithal to operate on its own. To the critics of the OPCON handover, all these may point to the fact that, over the years, the ROK’s “political will to allocate the required resources has been constrained by economic pressures and the imperative to sustain South Korea’s socio-economic stability and growth.” As if to underscore this point, the ROK’s defense budget grew fourfold “at a rate higher than conventional explanations would expect” due to fears that the United States may eventually withdraw from the Korean peninsula. It was perhaps for these reasons that retired GEN B. B. Bell, a former Commander of the United States Forces Korea, has advocated postponing the transfer “permanently.
 
However, the Obama Administration’s reversal of its decision to hand over the OPCON to the ROK military appears unlikely. First, in the face of the drastic sequestration cuts in the upcoming fiscal years, long-term commitment in the Korean peninsula may be unsustainable. Second, since both the United States Armed Forces and civilians suffer from war-weariness after having fought in Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade, it is unlikely that they will accept long-term overseas commitment of this magnitude. Which leads to the third point that the United States will likely favor diplomatic solutions when dealing with Kim Jŏng-ŭn, since the DPRK has recently expressed its desires to engage in dialogues. Fourth, “[m]ost economic and military indicators show that South Korea has an edge over North Korea in almost all measures of power.” While many opponents of the transition point to the DPRK’s asymmetric threats to make their case, Suh Jae-jung contends that “quantitative advantage quickly fades when one takes account of the qualitative disadvantages of operating its 1950s-vintage weapons systems” which has led “serious analysts [to] conclude that ‘North Korea never had a lead over South Korea.’” Most importantly, arguments against the scheduled transition are weak because they tend to focus only on the military dimensions of the ongoing conflict.
 
There are several ways in which the US-ROK alliance  can enhance security dynamics on the peninsula in the aftermath of the OPCON transfer. One obvious approach would be to seek diplomatic solutions to proactively deter further provocations by Kim Jŏng-ŭn. Despite the deep-seated rancor and distrust between the two Korean states, both Korean states have nevertheless agreed to reopen the Kaesŏng Industrial Complex. The latest inter-Korean talk held at P’anmunjŏm demonstrates more than anything else the need to “cajole and flatter the young ruler…[by] allowing Kim Jŏng-ŭn to save face as sovereign ruler of his country.” As Miha Hribernik and I wrote in June, one way of doing this would be to “accept his offers to discuss arms reduction first.” In addition, the US-ROK alliance could defuse tension on the Korean peninsula by recognizing the DPRK as a sovereign state. Such measures would prevent miscommunication where parties involved are “not talking to each other but rather, past each other.”
 
Nevertheless, the US-ROK alliance must avoid appearing weak even as it seeks diplomatic solutions to guarantee peace and security for the Korean peninsula. As I wrote earlier, “in order for diplomatic endeavors to be sustainable in the long-run, they must be backed up by a credible threat of coercion.” With or without the OPCON, there are several ways in which the US-ROK alliance can effectively deter future DPRK aggressions. One such option, as I’ve written earlier, would be for the United States Pacific Fleet and the ROKN, along with the JMSDF, to form a combined fleet whereby the three navies “would may share their unique resources and cultures to develop flexible responses against future threats by Kim Jŏng-ŭn.” Second would be to allow the ROK JCS Chairman to assume command of the CFC with the top American general serving as his deputy as was proposed in June during a ministerial meeting held between Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin. However, at this juncture, according to the Washington Post, “the 28,500 U.S. troops here will not fall under the command of the South…[since] the United States and South Korea will have separate commands.” Third, to proactively deal with possible DPRK missile attacks, the US-ROK alliance, together with Japan, can develop a collective missile defense system.  Fourth, as retired Admiral James Stavridis argues, since the world has converged into smaller communities through globalization, we must take the fight to our adversary by “follow[ing] the money [to upend] threat financing” abroad and at home. Last but not least, since the DPRK’s  recent asymmetric attacks against the US-ROK alliance have been waged on cyberspace to cripple their infrastructures, the US-ROK alliance, in tandem with the international community, can work together to enhance their cyber security.
Despite unfounded fears among retired officers and conservative analysts that the OPCON transfer may considerably weaken South Korea’s security, it does not mean that the United States will completely withdraw from the Korean peninsula. Nor does the ROK resemble South Vietnam after the Paris Treaty of 1973. That is, the ROK remains an economically and politically stable nation. With new transition come new opportunities for innovative growth. For the ROK, OPCON transfer just may present such opportunities to protect itself from further aggression by Kim Jŏng-ŭn.

 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 various online publications, including East Asia Forum, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs and the USNI Blog.