Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

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.
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[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.

West Africa: An Ounce of Prevention

AMLEP in action: A joint U.S. and Sierra Leone law enforcement boarding team talk with the crew of a cargo ship.
AMLEP in action: A joint U.S. and Sierra Leone law enforcement boarding team talk with the crew of a cargo ship.

After a series of high-profile stand-offs with Somali pirates, the international community has directed a great deal of resources toward securing the Gulf of Aden. But with an increase in piracy and other criminal activities in the Niger Delta and the Gulf of Guinea, some of which may be linked to terrorist networks, what role can the Atlantic community play in securing the coasts of West Africa?

On the one hand, the United States and European partners are making an important contribution in terms of equipment. In particular, vessels provided through the U.S. military’s Excess Defense Articles system have bolstered the capabilities of naval forces in the region. A recent example is the acquisition by the Nigerian Navy of a former U.S. Navy survey ship and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, due to be delivered by early 2014. These donated vessels will go a long way to boosting capabilities, especially as at this time the Nigerian Navy is largely dependent on Seaward Defense Boats commissioned from the Indian shipyard Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers. The Indian Navy itself has decommissioned its own complement of Seaward Defense Boats because these vessels generate a disproportionately large maintenance overhead – the materials and method of construction leave the patrol craft with very low corrosion tolerance.

More than vessels and equipment, however, the naval forces of West African countries require training assistance. In this area, some training and joint exercises are being conducted by NATO and EU member states, but much of this is carried out on a bilateral, case-by-case basis. In April 2013, French and American military advisors provided training to Liberian Coast Guard personnel, including such topics as non-compliant vessel boarding, search and seizure tactics, weapons familiarization, and hull sweeps for mines and smuggling compartments. All of this mentorship and training was limited to a four-day port visit by a French frigate to Monrovia, the Liberian capital.

Other training opportunities take place intermittently. U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) has introduced the Africa Partnership Station (APS) program, through which U.S. Navy and Coast Guard crews carry out mentoring initiatives similar to the Monrovia visit described above. The Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP) sees personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard and relevant African institutions operating alongside one another for a slightly more sustained duration. Under this latter program, a U.S. Navy or Coast Guard vessel patrols the territorial waters of the African host country, carrying both an American boarding party and a boarding party from the host country, enhancing that country’s counter-piracy capabilities while also exposing the partner country’s personnel to U.S. Coast Guard best practices.

Although AMLEP benefits from a greater duration and depth of interaction, the exchanges are still too brief to develop naval forces that can operate independently in West Africa. More must be done in this area in order to avoid a scenario in which piracy interferes with shipping in the Gulf of Guinea to such an extent that NATO and its partners must field an intervention of the same scale and extent as Operation Ocean Shield, which continues to this day in the Gulf of Aden. To reduce reliance on Ocean Shield, the European Union has since 2012 mounted an ambitious training assistance mission, known as EUCAP NESTOR, with the objective of providing consistent and intensive training assistance to the maritime forces of such countries as Somalia, Djibouti, and Kenya. The mission has 45 full-time staff members working in the countries – primarily Djibouti – and a planned capacity of 137. Begun with a mandate of two years, EUCAP NESTOR could be renewed until these East African states are able to take charge of policing the Gulf of Aden, replacing Ocean Shield.

Whereas EUCAP NESTOR was introduced in East Africa as a response to a full-blown crisis of pirate activity, a similar mission could be launched in West Africa as a preventative measure. The lessons that could be provided and the connections that could be forged in a two-year mandate would likely surpass what can be achieved in a four-day port visit. Whether such a training mission would be better carried out under the auspices of the EU or NATO is a matter of political debate. From a practical standpoint, however, committing resources to the sustained development of the Nigerian Navy, the Liberian Coast Guard, and other regional partners would be more cost-effective than the eventual alternative: the deployment of an Ocean Shield-style mission to the Gulf of Guinea.

Paul Pryce is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada. Having previously worked with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, he has an active interest in both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ security issues.