(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.
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.
Thanks to the @Cimsec Twitter feed, earlier this week I was alerted to an announcement that Colombia was creating a new “Naval Force of the East,” a new addition to its geographically-oriented naval commands in the Caribbean, Pacific, and South of the country.
The actual press release on the Colombian Navy’s (Armada Nacional de la República de Colombia) website stated that this new command would be responsible for security of the various rivers of the Orinoco basin along Colombia’s border with Venezuela. Commanded by a naval officer, the new command will incorporate several Colombian Marine Corps units (COLMAR, Infantería de Marina Colombiana). This development shines a light on the Colombian Marine Corps and one the world’s most robust riverine capabilities.
According to the 2013 edition of Jane’s World Navies, types of Colombian riverine units include River Infantry Brigades (Brigada Fluvial de Infantería de Marina, BRIFLIM), River Battalions (Batallón Fluvial de Infantería de Marina, BAFLIM) and River Assault Marine Battalions (Batallón de Asalto Fluvial de Infantería de Marina, BASFLIM). Forces from the 1st River Marine Infantry Brigade (BRIFLIM1) are located near Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The 2nd River Marine Brigade (BRIFILIM2) is located on the Pacific coast with its headquarters in Buenaventura. The 3rd River Marine Brigade (BRIFLIM3) is headquartered in Puerto Leguizamo and is responsible for forces operating along the borders with Ecuador and Peru. Forces from the 4th River Marine Brigade (BRIFLIM4) operate in regions near Colombia’s Pacific coast and border with Ecuador. The Marine force assigned to the new Naval Force East is a regular Marine Infantry Brigade (BRIM5).
Colombia’s state-run shipbuilder COTECMAR has built a variety of modern command platforms and assault craft for use by COLMAR’s riverine forces. COLMAR now has ten ships of the Patrullera de Apoyo Fluvial Pesada class (Riverine Support Patrol Craft or PAF, more commonly referred to as the Nodriza, the Spanish term for “wet nurse” or “nursemaid”). These ships are jet-propelled, heavily armored, and can embark a helicopter and 72 Marines. A newer mother-ship concept is the PAF-L (Riverine Support Patrol Craft-Light), about half the size of the Nodrizas and capable of operating in extremely low draft environments. The motherships are supported by smallerLPR-classships (Lanchas Patrulleras Rapidas or Fast Patrol Boats).
The precise reason for this announcement and the expansion of riverine combat power along Colombia’s border with Venezuela is unclear. According to the Colombian Navy’s press release (translation courtesy of Google), “with this new National Navy the Navy affirms its commitment to the security of the country and will continue in a decisive offensive operations ahead in order to neutralize the illegal structures that offend in eastern Colombia.” It is unclear whether this move represents signalling of Colombian strength to Venezuela’s post-Hugo Chavez leadership, although it should be noted that, according to Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, published in May 2013, BRIM5 was already in place in Puerto Carreno, along Colombia’s southeast border with Venezuela, well before this announcement. The Presidents of Colombia and Venezuela met in nearby Puerto Ayacucho, across the river in Venezuela, on 22 July.
Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government. You can follow him on Twitter @markbmunson.
Canada’s submarine fleet often sparks debate, over its high maintenance costs and over whether Canada needs submarines at all. Going forward, that debate must center on how costs, capabilities, and Canadian interests align with one another.
Canada’s Victoria-class submarine fleet has been controversial since its inception. Most recently, a report by Michael Byers and Stewart Webb argues that the time has come to either phase out the program or commit to a robust discussion of how to replace the fleet. Critics cite a disappointing history of expensive repairs, time lost, and a tragic fire. Supporters insist that the boats provide important capabilities, and Navy planners have sought to get the ball rolling on acquiring new subs sometime after 2020. Going forward, debate over the current fleet and its potential replacement should include all of those elements, but focus on how they align with one another: whether submarines provide the right capabilities at the right price to serve Canada’s national interests.
The subs were launched in the late 1980s and early 1990s, laid aside by the UK in 1994, purchased by Canada in 1998, and delivered between 2000 and 2004. Canada undertook their first real refit after years sitting in saltwater, ending in significant cost overruns. Tragically, during its cross-Atlantic voyage a fire broke out on HMCS Chicoutimi resulting in the death of a Sailor and deferral of Chicoutimi’s repairs to 2010.
Since 2003, the boats have spent a combined total of 1131 days at sea (less than 33% of the time). HMCS Corner Brook remains in maintenance (to be completed in 2016) begun after she ran aground during exercises in 2011, and despite a recent $209-million refit HMCS Windsor is restricted to operations in Canadian waters until one engine is removed and replaced late this summer.
Nevertheless, the fleet is scheduled to reach “steady state,” (two subs at high readiness, one at standard readiness, and one in refit) with the completion of Chicoutimi’s repairs at the end of 2013. As one retired Admiral says, the fleet may be turning a corner and Canada now able to reap some benefits.
With regard to replacing the fleet, Byers and Webb note the three main options, ranging in cost (depending on capabilities) from $365 million to $950 million per ship. They also note that replacement subs would be new, off-the-shelf (but built in Canada) and unlikely to have similar maintenance problems and costs.
Interests and Capabilities
The Canadian interests for which submarines could be relevant can be divided into three categories: the defense of Canada and North America, support of Canadian expeditionary deployments, and support of Canada’s interest in global maritime stability.
First, regarding the defense of Canada and North America, proponents argue that submarines provide the ability to covertly carry out coastal sovereignty and surveillance patrols, including in the Arctic. But as Byers and Webb point out, in Canadian waters at least, these functions can be performed better (and cheaper) by aircraft and drones, combined with surface-craft for enforcement. Also, the Victoria Class has no under-ice capability, although new subs likely would.
Second, submarines could support certain expeditionary deployments. The current fleet can provide security for other naval platforms, their covert surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities would be valuable, and they can enhance the activities of special operations forces. New subs could have the capability to hit land targets with guided missiles launched from offshore, as American and British boats did in support of NATO’s Libyan operation in 2011.
Supporting global maritime stability is a key interest for Canada as it relies heavily on sea-borne trade, even with the United States. More broadly, Canada has long worked to entrench and expand global trade, which is heavily sea-reliant. As its government seeks to expand trade relations with Europe, Asia, and Latin America the importance of commercial sea routes, and therefore of global maritime stability, will only increase for Canada.
This is particularly the case in the quintessentially maritime Asia Pacific region where China in particular is driving growth in economic and military power. Byers and Stewart argue that because of its global trading links, including with Canada, China is unlikely to engage in conflict, so investing in submarines based on the slim probability of Canadian engagement in such a conflict may be unwise. But according to Elinor Sloan, “Horizon 2050: A strategic concept for Canada’s navy,” the document presumed to be guiding future naval platform acquisitions, views maritime inter-state competition in the region with concern.
As I outlined in a previous article, territorial disputes, great power strategy, and nationalist emotions in Asia Pacific create a volatile mix. In this environment conventional deterrence and power projection will play an important role, either in maintaining stability or in actual conflict. The potential for a Canadian submarine presence in such Asia Pacific roles was forecast by HMCS Victoria’s participation in the US-led Rim of the Pacific, 2012 exercise.
In this vein, as Commander Craven notes, submarines provide access to areas denied to other forces and serve as a credible deterrent against almost all forces, including other states’ sea-borne power projection platforms. They can also serve in a power projection role, especially around shipping “choke points” and littoral areas. To be sure, surface ships can perform these roles (and others that submarines cannot), but they lack the tactical and psychological advantages of stealthy subs.
Debate concerning Canada’s submarine fleet and its possible renewal will consider many factors, from costs to capabilities and interests. The final decision must be made based on how those factors align with each other. Submarines provide many capabilities, but they are not necessarily the only platforms that do, and may or may not be the most efficient platforms in the doing. I am not qualified to judge whether submarines are the ideal platform for Canada to secure its interests as efficiently as possible, but that discussion of balance must be the center of debate going forward.
Andrew Chisholm is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada. He recently graduated from the University of King’s College with a B.A., Combined Honours, in Political Science and History, and studied Conflict Resolution at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Andrew focuses his writing on contemporary Canadian foreign, defence, and security policy. His wider interests include sovereignty and governance, international diplomacy, and emerging security threats. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our nation is closing its chapter on the Long Wars as 2014 approaches. While there will be no single demarcation of when we become a “nation at peace”, we will settle into the same minimal focus and consciousness (if we are not there already) regarding Afghanistan as we did in Iraq when a no-fly zone was enforced for more than a decade following the Gulf War. I do not yet wish to comment on the national reflection that needs to take place, but in terms of military science I believe our introspection is flawed. Many studies and after action reviews have been undertaken examining generic trends or qualitative assessments, but very few have examined the input/output efficiencies that were or were not achieved by units, systems, and methods. It’s reasonable that such studies cannot be expected to be coldly objective in their analysis while active combat operations are ongoing. Never the less, there will be no “Victory over the Long War Day” which clearly marks the end of war and the start of peace, so a more robust critical analysis can not wait till there is no more emotion associated with our recent wars. Below are the least efficient input/output trends that I observed from my brief service in our Long War. These are my own, and derived only by my own anecdotal experience.
1.Counter-Improvised Explosive Devices (IED): By this I mean the big government counter-IED response, of which the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) is the prime example. This is an emotional topic for many, including myself, as friends of mine were killed by such devices – devices that are not new technologies that emerged in Iraq and Afghanistan, as many have portrayed them. The big government/higher headquarters response to Counter-IED might represent one of the worst returns on investment in annals of American war. When organizations such as JIEDDO consume vast swathes of money, the outlay is assumed to have achieved the effect of decreasing casualty incidents from such devices. However, such spending has actually had negligible results decreasing the harm caused to our forces. The past few years have seen millions more spent on high-tech counters to IEDs while the devices themselves are becoming cheaper and wounding or killing more of our forces. Anecdotally, for all the amazing technology I witnessed and/or used while in Afghanistan, solutions that were top-down or directed from high-level headquarters generally had much less impact on preventing casualties than those that were bottom-up. Fantastic technology had the same results as very basic know-how applied by 19-year-olds facing death, and contained decreased opportunity costs from draining huge coffers of money to address simple tactical problems. The data sets surrounding the issue are very difficult to comprehensively discern, as we are measuring the safety of our troops, and the spillover effects of some of the work taken by organizations like JIEDDO is likely large. But in aggregate it is hard to argue that we have not spun ourselves in circles looking for a technological answer to an eternal human problem of warfare.
IEDs are, and will remain, a weapon that leverages a stronger force’s weaknesses against it. Planning to counter them in way that seems more in line with nuclear deterrence or research into ballistic missile defense seems to be a misplaced strategy. Historically there have been many examples of emerging technologies or tactics used by foes to exploit a gap in our own equipment or tactics, but we have traditionally let forces and commanders find the best way to meet those advances. Outsourcing much of the solution to large, bureaucratic organizations is not an “Occam’s Razor” solution. Money spent creating force fields more akin to Flash Gordon than Sgt Rock would have been better utilized providing realistic training for units, enabling commanders to address problems in their areas of operations according to their judgment, or, sadly the most radical suggestion for the DOD, saved for the rainy fiscal day that is upon us.
2. Growth in Networks: Inefficiency has also formed due to the gap between the vast growths in network capability of the U.S. military compared with its human processing ability. IT and communications technology allowed the U.S. military to enter into the Long War with an unparalleled ability to sense, collect, and distribute data. The largest problem is that our human processing ability – the capability to process such data into tangible and useful results – has not caught up. I was amazed as to what an infantry battalion in Afghanistan had at its disposal in terms of networks and databases, but disheartened when I tried to pull meaning out of those same networks and databases. Simply put, there has been a glut in the supply of information provided by networks and our cognitive demand has not caught up.
Commanders are shown amazing examples and case studies of networks helping find a bad guys, save a patrol, or magically reveal what an insurgent will do. In all these examples it seems as if Apple designed our systems, and upon a few clicks of the mouse the answer will appear. Generally such outcomes occurred when there was a merging of the right person/people, events, knowledge, and required training. Such a confluence was a rare occurrence, and to raise expectations that they were common is irresponsible and shows expectation bias by allowing the cherry picking of results to justify larger, more complex systems. The most critical ingredients to cook up the perfect network-enabled operation – training and judgment – are the most difficult to inculcate in the 18-22-year-olds using the systems. It is true we need graduate-level thinking in our warriors to conduct counter-insurgency (COIN), but saying we need it and providing the time necessary to obtain it are two very different things.
We can continue to build more intricate networks which add raw capability but little meaning to our command and control capabilities. I would argue the best network is not the most complex, but rather the simplest one that works the most consistently – a model ourenemies seem adept at constructing. Increasing the training, judgment, and processing capacity of our forces will yield better results than expanding our digital tendrils past the point of diminishing returns of our collective nervous system. Revising our acquisitions process would help, often it seemed that new systems were shot out at the rate of how long it took a defense contractor to impress a flag officer instead an actual need occurring on the battlefield. A vetting system that involves more widespread testing at the lower ranks, and contracts which are easier to get out of if the product does not live up to expectations, could prevent debacles from seemingly simple requests that get turned into unstoppable hydras.
3. The Deification of COIN: I will preface this comment by saying that I am not a COIN naysayer who thinks that the U.S. military should only be prepared for larger force-on-force engagements a la Leyte Gulf or Kursk. I believe that the kit bag of any global power should be contain the forces necessary to interdict conflict at the low- and medium-ends of the spectrum, or before it begins. History proves that most of America’s wars have been low-intensity conflicts.
That being said there has been a fetishization with COIN, and it more proportionally affects junior leaders like myself. COIN takes much skill, has a limited bandwidth of applicability, and will always be best when its strategy comes from those closest to its application. But such characteristics are not likely to apply if high-intensity conflicts occur.
Our current rebalance to the Pacific is based on thelikelihood for fast, large-scale, and highly violent conflict. Such a conflict will weigh heavily on junior leaders, but not in the way they are used to. They will have to rely on senior leadership to coordinate and enable their actions, because without strong, decisive higher headquarters guidance a danger of the second coming of Task Force Smith exists. While deployed in the hinterlands of Helmand, many lieutenants had to craft their own guidance and operate with the slimmest of intent. The vast majority did so well; they also came away from the experience rightly confident in their abilities and skeptical of the perspective higher headquarters had. In a vast ocean and littoral battlefield, those same independent operators will have to accept the fact they will not see the whole picture. Our forces have done extremely well fighting over long tours interspersed with moments of violence, but have had more limited exposure to highly kinetic battles that take place over months and require management of rates of fire, triage, and difficult decisions about weaponeering. Most of the choices were easy in a COIN fight, as the majority of the time the decision was always not how to use the most force but how to use the least. While the strong experiences that have been formed over the past ten years of small unit actions are priceless, it must not be treated as sacrosanct in all circumstances. Future junior leaders may not be in command of the lone patrol base for miles, or if they are, they might only be effective if they are aware of the fight going on at higher levels. We have rarely been able to choose our wars, and even when we do the enemy casts votes that are rarely predicted. Raising an officer corps to worship at the altar of COIN is no healthier than those who refused to accept COIN’s viability in the early stages of Iraq and Afghanistan.
There are enormous amounts of knowledge to be extracted from the previous decade of war, and efforts to refine that knowledge into a powerful, efficient fuel that can power our military to train for future conflicts needs to occur as a logical study of our efficiencies. We have had many qualitative accounts of battles and campaigns that have aptly described what was or was not done. There have not been as many quantitative studies of what provided the most for the least cost. Such an examination will be boring, and necessarily ignorant of the emotional side of our conflicts, but is required as it will be best way to extract meaning that will be useful in future wars.
About the Author: Chris Barber is a Captain in the United States Marine Corps. The views presented here are his own and not official policy of the USMC, DOD, or United States Government. They also are insanely clever for a gentlemen educated in public school that might not be able to spell COIN if not for spell check.