Fair warning: what follows is commentary about the F-35. However, this isn’t going to be a very popular commentary, as it doesn’t follow suit with the endless stream of recent articles, opinions, and blog posts making the F-35 out to be the worst debacle in the history of the militaries of the world. On top of those you’d expect, even automotive and IT blogs have piled on.
People who have no idea how government acquisition works, nor the purpose of the Joint Strike Fighter program — or even some who do, among many with ideologicalaxes to grind — relish trashing the F-35, always managing to include “trillion dollar” (or more) somewhere in the title of the latest article to lambast the plane.
The F-35 is a multirole fighter that is designed to replace nearly every fighter in not just the Air Force inventory, but the Navy and Marine Corps as well: the F-16, F/A-18, AV-8B, and A-10, and to augment and partially replace the F-15 and F-22. The F-35 lifetime cost will be less than that of all the diverse platforms it is replacing — and their own eventually needed replacements.
Navy test pilot LT Chris Tabert takes off in F-35C test aircraft CF-3 in the first launch of the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter from the Navy’s new electromagnetic aircraft launch system, set to install on USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78).
If anything, the F-35 suffers from being a “jack of all trades, master of none” — which is itself a bit of an overstatement — but we also can’t afford the alternative of follow-on replacement for all existing platforms. And for all the delays, we still have aircraft in the inventory to serve our needs for the next 10-20 years. Articles oversimplifying sensor deficiencies in the first generation, software issues with its 25mm cannon (the gun remains on schedule), or the oft-quoted 2008 RAND report, apparently choose overlook the reality that it’s not going to be instantaneously better in every respect than every aircraft it is replacing, and may never replace aircraft like the A-10 for close air support.
The F-35 development process is no more disorganized than any other USG activity, and if you want to look for people protecting special interests, it’s not with the F-35 — ironically, it’s with those protecting all of the myriad legacy platforms, and all of the countless different contractors and interests involved with not just the aircraft, but all of the subsystems made by even more contractors, all of whom want to protect their interests, and which are served quite well by a non-stop stream of articles and slickly-produced videos slamming the F-35.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was originally to cost $500 million, and is now expected to cost $8.8 billion and will be over a decade late. Shall we cancel it? Or take the pragmatic approach when the purpose of the mission is important and no reasonable alternatives exist? This isn’t a problem with just DOD acquisition. It’s the reality in which we live.
One of the reasons the JSF program, and the F-35, came into being is precisely because we won’t be able to afford maintaining and creating replacements for a half-dozen or more disparate aircraft tailor-made for specific services and missions.
The F-35 itself is actually three different aircraft built around the same basic airframe, engine, and systems. The F-35A is the Air Force air attack variant, the F-35B is the VSTOL Marine Corps variant, and the F-35C is the Navy carrier-based variant. If we had already retired every plane the F-35 is supposed to be replacing, there might be cause for concern. But as it stands, we have retired none, and won’t until the F-35 can begin to act in their stead.
If there are questions as to why we even need a fifth-generation manned multirole fighter with the rise of unmanned systems, cyber, and so on, the answer is an easy one: China and Russia both developed fifth-generation fighters, and the purpose of these aircraft isn’t only in a direct war between the US and either of those nations, but for US or allied military activity in a fight with any other nation using Chinese or Russian military equipment, or being protected by China or Russia. You don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.
The F-35 isn’t just a US platform: it will also be used by the UK, Canada, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Israel, Turkey, Singapore, and perhaps other nations. And the fact is, this is not only our fifth-generation manned fighter, it is likely the last. We cannot afford to have separate systems replace all or even most of the platforms the F-35 is replacing, nor can we simply decide to forgo replacements and extend the life of existing platforms by decades.
The F-35 is our nation’s next generation fighter, and it’s here to stay.
F-35B ship suitability testing in 2011 aboard USS Wasp (LHD-1)
As the phenomenon of piracy is usually dependent on the existence of sanctuaries in failed (or failing) states, counter-insurgency can represent an effective way to confront it. Insurgencies and piracy represent two distinct security issues, but a combined approach can be part of the solution to both.
While the insurgency-terrorism nexus has been thoroughly explored in the last years, the relationship of piracy with these two phenomena is still not well understood. A direct link between transnational terrorist networks and piracy hotbeds has been highlighted earlier this year on this very website by Niklas Anzinger. He quotes Al-Qaeda’s ideologue Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, who identified the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal, Bab al-Mandib and the Gibraltar Strait as targets for an offensive maritime strategy which comprises piracy. However, despite these plans, Al-Qaeda’s maritime strategy so far has consisted of a very limited number of attacks to foreign oil tankers and warships, the most famous being the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Aden on June 2000. The failure to build a solid connection between Al-Qaeda’s franchises and local pirate groups can be explained with Al-Qaeda’s (and, for this matter, any other terrorist group’s) unwillingness to align itself with individuals who openly engage in criminal activity. In their battle for the population’s allegiance, persuasion is as important as coercion.
Thus, terrorist and insurgent groups tend to distance themselves from pirates. These, in turn, are arguably motivated by material gains alone, and thus are more interested in perpetuating the state of things that allows their illicit business to flourish. Despite the claim of moral superiority, some analyst considered the two categories to be “remarkably similar”, in that both are made up of “young, unemployed and highly impressionable” members. However, the motives of the two groups are not only different – they are conflicting.
Indeed, insurgency and piracy feed each other in a vicious circle. The conditions that help in igniting an insurgency – corruption, disruption of the local economy, and, above all, lack of societal security – are fostered by the very existence of parasitical pirate groups. Collusion between piracy and terrorism would allow extremist groups to overcome practical constraints in carrying out offensive operations in maritime areas. This could be done either by merging the two entities or by establishing a division of labour where pirates are tasked with the execution of terrorist activities at sea. Yet, there is no record of such a collaboration. As stated above, this is probably due to the friction in the objectives and values of the two groups. Nonetheless, piracy thrives in so-called “uncontrolled spaces”, and the solution to piracy may lie on land. So, while formal affiliation of pirates to insurgent groups is unlikely, counterinsurgency can represent a valid method to tackle piracy.
Somali pirates. Source: Telegraph.co.uk
In fact, pirate gangs share structural characteristics with insurgencies. They do not represent an alternative to state control – on the contrary, they scavenge the carcass of failing states. However, like insurgencies, they rely on the existence of safe havens. Denying sanctuary to these criminal groups is paramount and, especially in some theatres, could prove to be extremely effective. A report by the RAND Corporation on the influence of maritime components on irregular warfare concluded that counter-piracy measures are needed in order to contrast insurgencies that take advantage of their area of operations’ geographical proximity to the sea. The reverse is true as well. Population control represents the basis for any measure aimed at targeting the actions of pirate gangs that are otherwise elusive. The existence of ungoverned areas is the sine qua non condition for both insurgencies and criminal syndicates. While the first exploit grievances to advance their political aims, the second group – to which pirate bands belong – profits from the absence of the rule of law. The actions of both these groups can be considerably weakened by the enforcement of state control over the economy. This cannot be done without a direct involvement of state policing in the contrast to piracy. On this point, it should be noted that the hurdles deriving from the employment of private security contractors to protect against piracy currently outweigh the advantages of such an approach.
Restoring the rule of law is required in order to address the root causes of piracy rather than its symptoms. Currently, the intervention of Foreign Navies in incidents related to piracy is particularly problematic. The effectiveness of initiatives like NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield is undisputable, but constraints on the offensive actions of counterpiracy forces persist. This was recently highlighted by ECHR’s decision to sanction the French Navy for the detention of a group of Somali pirates after they hijacked two French yachts in 2008. The involvement of ground forces is extremely unlikely in the current state of things. Unity of command and unity of action are difficult to achieve without a coherent and comprehensive strategy that goes beyond the patrolling of sea routes.
NATO anti-piracy operations. Source: Shipping.nato.int
Meeting the conditions stated above would set counterpiracy as the tactical component of an overarching counter-insurgency strategy. This approach has the potential to eradicate – rather than just mitigate – the presence of pirates in areas outside of state control. Considering the presence of pirates as part of a wider issue can help in devising the strategies that are best fit to counter it.
Giorgio Bertolin holds a B.A. in Middle Eastern Studies and an M.Sc. in International Security. He joined CIMSEC in October 2014. He is currently studying for a PhD at King’s College London, Defence Studies Department. His main fields of interests are counterinsurgency and organisational culture.
Several days ago (Tuesday September 23), I drove to work listening to the report of the United States’ government’s latest military adventure in the area of the Levant at the confluence of northeastern Syria and western Iraq. The National Public Radio (NPR) announcers intoned dryly on the launches, among other things, of 50—yes fifty—tomahawk land attack cruise missiles (TLAM) as part of a major strike against the threat de jour of this season, the brutal Islamic State. At 1.4 million dollars a pop, tomahawks are a very very expensive way to kill people and blow up their sinews of war, the most expensive of which were captured from the Syrian and most recently Iraqi armies—in other words less expensive stuff (like towed artillery and armored personnel carriers) that originated mostly in Russian and US factories.
23 and a half years ago the US launched its first TLAMS as a part of the opening air campaign of Operation Desert Storm, the combat phase of the US-led coalition’s successful effort to liberate Kuwait from the military forces of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and to restore stability, of some kind, to the Persian Gulf region. That use was part of an overall suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) campaign that built on the lessons learned from Vietnam in 1972, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and finally the Israeli Bekka Valley SEAD campaign in 1982. TLAMS served as a means, along with electronic countermeasures like radar jamming and use of anti-radiation missiles (ARM), to suppress Iraqi air defenses. Their use made sense because they were part of an overall campaign to achieve air superiority before launching the ground war that quickly liberated Kuwait under skies dominated by US and coalition aircraft.
Since then, TLAMs have been used in a similar fashion in Bosnia (Deliberate Force, 1995), Kosovo (Allied Force, 1999), Iraq again (Desert Fox, 1998, and Iraqi Freedom, 2003), and most recently in Libya (Odyssey Dawn, 2011). One sees a trend here, with the exception of Iraq in 2003, of using these weapons as a means to show resolve without risking the lives of US service personnel on the ground. Arguments can be made to support this use, although similar arguments can be made against their use, especially in the air-only campaigns. Today, they are again supposedly a part of a larger air campaign against the thug-regime of the Islamic State (for our purposes here ISIS). One supposes that they were being used because of the air defense capabilities of ISIS, especially captured surface-to-air missile (SAM) equipment, anti-aircraft artillery, and radars. Some of this concern for both manned and unmanned aircraft attacking ISIS is also directed at the Syrian regime, which has not guaranteed that its air defense system will remain silent during this expansion of the air war into Syria to attack the “capital” of the ISIS caliphate at Raqqa. However, ISIS’s air defenses have been assessed by some as being “relatively limited.”
One must ask the question, why expand the war, both geographically and in terms of means, for the purposes of this essay, the means equating to TLAM use? Has anyone done a cost benefit analysis (CBA) of this usage or is their use more an informational tactic meant to show sexy pictures of TLAM use to convey the seriousness of the intent by the Obama Administration? A CBA notwithstanding, these other things may all be true to varying degrees, but it points to a more troubling suggestion. Is the use of TLAMs, like the use aircraft carriers to deliver the air power to these land-locked regions, simply a reflection of the strategic poverty of American thinking?
There are very few positive benefits in all these results. Strategic poverty? Or cynical public relations campaign? Or wasteful expenditure of high technology smart ordnance against a very weak target (the ISIS air defense “system”)? None of these choices offers much in the way of reassurance to this writer.
Further, the criteria for the use of these expensive “kamikaze drones”—my characterization for TLAMS—seems to be lower and lower. More and more, in the 1990s and since, when the US government wanted to blow up some meaningless bit of sand or dirt to display US resolve it sent these weapons in to do the job—or not do the job in most cases. We think we are sending a signal of resolve but our enemies, like the North Vietnamese during the ineffectual Rolling Thunder campaign, “hear” us sending a message of weakness, lack of resolve, and even cowardice. A friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, refers to the TLAM as: “the 20th Century equivalent of a diplomatic note, meant to convey disapproval without really doing anything.”
Alcoholics Anonymous—among others—has a saying: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.” This latest gross expenditure of US tax dollars by the US Navy at the behest of its strategic masters to blow things up in a remote corner of the globe provides more evidence that US policy is either insane, impoverished, cynical, or all of the above. Let us hope it is impoverished, because that we can change; one day, and one election, at a time. But first the US must quit its knee jerk reactions to these sorts of events, like an alcoholic going on another binge.
John T. Kuehn’s views are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
A Greek-owned oil tanker that lost contact with its owner after the evening of June 4 is still missing and presumed hijacked in the pirate-prone Gulf of Guinea. The MT Fair Artemis was last reported operating some 40 nautical miles SSE off Accra, Ghana and is laden with a cargo of gasoil. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) is treating the vessel’s disappearance as a possible hijacking, while local naval forces have mobilized in a search.
A senior port official in Tema, Ghana claims that the vessel’s master sent a distress call on June 6, saying that the ship had been hijacked and was being looted as it was forced to sail east through the waters of neighboring Togo. Naval forces from Ghana, Togo, and Nigeria have all engaged in a search for the Fair Artemis, with Ghanaian military officials noting, “We are looking within the whole sub-region.”
The Fair Artemis’s cargo and sudden disappearance fit the profile of the well-organized tanker hijackings that have plagued the Gulf of Guinea in recent years. If the vessel is under pirate control, its attackers have likely disabled the ship’s communication equipment and painted over its identifying markers. The pirates’ objective would be to sail the Fair Artemisto a safe location, most commonly off the western coast of Nigeria, and transfer the vessel’s valuable cargo to secondary vessels for onward sale on the regional black market.
Disturbing the Pond
A tanker hijacking off Ghana would be particularly notable because the country’s waters have been a relative sea of calm compared with those of its neighbors. The anchorages of Lagos, Nigeria, Cotonou, Benin, Lome, Togo, and Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire have all witnessed multiple tanker hijackings since 2010, while Ghana has seen only a handful of minor robberies at sea. Striking off Accra thus conforms to the pattern of the hijack gangs who have sought to shift their attacks to anchorages where they are not expected and where defenses are lowered. Previous outlier hijackings have occurred as far west as Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire and as southward as Luanda, Angola.
The specter of Nigeria-based piracy expanding to its waters has weighed heavily on Ghanaian officials as the country continues to develop its offshore oil productioncapabilities. Accra has acquired new patrol boats and surveillance aircraft in recent years and is in the process of launching a naval special forces unit. Ghana has also sought to improve its maritime situational awareness by implementing a Vessel Traffic Management and Information System to remotely monitor vessels and coordinate efforts among government and commercial stakeholders. A pirate hijacking off a Ghanaian port will damage the country’s reputation for maritime security and “reflect on the attitudes of the international shipping community towards our port,” notes Paul Asare Ansah, head of public relations at the Ghana Ports and Harbors Authority.
A Tough Neighborhood
Despite the progress the country has made towards securing its maritime domain, Ghana remains beholden to a neighborhood characterized by “sea blindness and mutual distrust.” Pirates, for example, have hijacked several tankers along the maritime border of Ghana and Togo and then fled across the sovereign boundary to avoid hot pursuit from national naval forces. The Fair Artemis’ prolonged disappearance and likely multi-national hijack route mirrors the January 2014 case of the MT Kerala, which pirates hijacked off the coast of Luanda, Angola and then sailed some 1,200 miles north to sell its stolen cargo in Nigerian waters.
Pirate Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea: 2014 (OCEANUS)
Over 60 percent of pirate attacks go officially unreported in the Gulf of Guinea, as vessel masters weigh the costs of delays and inspections against the unlikely chance of a regional naval response.
The Maritime Trade Information & Security Centre (MTISC) in Accra was established with international support in 2013 as a means to improve regional information sharing and response coordination. However, interagency information sharing and exchange of maritime domain awareness information was reportedly lacking during a recent international naval capacity building exercise, Operation Obangame Express.
Regional maritime security cooperation is incrementally improving, and tanker hijackings have in fact declined from a 2011 high. The presumed pirating of the Fair Artemis, however, demonstrates that the hijack gangs remain regionally active and will continue to stalk assumedly safe anchorages.
James M. Bridger is a Maritime Security Consultant with Delex Systems Inc. and the Director of Publications for CIMSEC. His current areas of focus and expertise address piracy, terrorism, and other irregular threats to global maritime transportation. He can be reached at email@example.com
The Gulf of Guinea has a problem: Nigerian-driven maritime crime. Nigeria’s problem in turn is a thoroughly criminalised political and commercial elite and a largely disenfranchised electorate. The fallout of that state of affairs has an impact on the region’s security and stability. There is no short-term fix and it has become fashionable to recommend “improved governance” and anti-corruption measures to remedy the situation in the long run. This sort of advice is cheap. Beyond the obvious truth contained in them, there is little in such recommendations as to how to operationalise them or how to address the situation in practical terms as it is and will likely remain for the next years if not for decades.
The efforts of the African Partnership Station (APS) and the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP) are two military-political initiatives that seek to overcome the lack of practical value of general policy recommendations and to utilise the will and the resources that exist in the region to make the best of it in the maritime environment. Within this setting OBANGAME EXPRESS is an annual test since 2011 of what has been and what still needs to be achieved in West Africa’s maritime domain. APS and AMLEP, together with the French “Operation Corymbe” are the only sustained efforts to build and maintain regional maritime security capabilities in a region characteristic for its sea blindness and mutual distrust.
With the emergence of the Gulf of Guinea Code of Conduct in 2013 and subsequent agreements between various signatories, such as the Zone E Agreement between Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Niger, West Africa makes an attempt to replicate some of the hot pursuit agreement already in existence between Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon in the borderlands of the Nigerian North and North-East and transfer that model to a maritime environment. The chief difference is that the Gulf of Guinea Code of Conduct provides a multi-lateral approach with obvious political advantages, but equally obvious operational challenges given the widely divergent maritime security agendas (where they exist) of the signatories. This problem has been circumvented for the time being by breaking down the entire region encompassing the states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) into manageable “zones” in order to be able to implement practical measures on the basis of the Code of Conduct more rapidly instead of having them negotiated by the entire forum. The zonal approach also allows individual states to shape the Code of Conduct according to their specific maritime security needs.
It is important to point out that maritime piracy (of whichever definition) is only one of many issues and for many regional states it is not even the most important or pressing one and thus not the driving force behind the Gulf of Guinea Code of Conduct. While piracy is costing the shipping industry and the region millions every year, the annual lost revenue from illegal fishing probably ranges in the several hundreds of millions while Nigeria alone loses approximately US$ 8bn per year from illegal bunkering and illegal crude oil exports. Much of the stolen oil leaves Nigeria by sea. The nexus of those criminal activities is transnational crime, often under the patronage of Nigerian elites. This makes it even more sensible to address the entire complex of maritime security as one and not just focus on a single symptom, however much this may exercise the pundits in the shipping journals and maritime security blogs.
OBANGAME EXPRESS 2014
This year’s exercise OBANGAME EXPRESS was meant to be a litmus test of the applied Zone E Agreement, both on a command & control (C2) level as well as on a tactical level – chiefly by rehearsing vessel board seize & search (VBSS) procedures, rules of engagement (ROE) and maritime interdiction operations (MIO) with boarding teams. The purpose of OBANGAME EXPRESS 2014 was thus “to exercise and evaluate the regional interoperability, multinational command and control relationships, and proficiency of the regional maritime partners in the Gulf of Guinea.”
West African statesmen like to ascribe many if not all of the region’s maritime security woes to external factors and routinely call on the international community for support to resolve the problem. This year, their call was answered during OBANGAME EXPRESS 2014 which lasted from 16 April to 23 April 2014 and included extra-regional support beyond APS from Belgium, Germany, Turkey and Spain. “During the at-sea phase of the exercise, 11 nations, including were represented on board 36 different vessels hosting 20 different boarding teams. The boarding teams completed 47 boarding drills during three days of operations” summarised Exercise Director, Captain Nancy Lacore. Several Maritime Operation commands (MOC) were involved, specifically the Regional Maritime Awareness Centre (RMAC) at the Nigerian Navy’ Western Naval Command in Lagos, the ECCAS Centre pour la Coordination Multinationale (CMC) in Douala (Cameroon) and the Battalion d’Intervention Rapide MOC in Idenau (Cameroon). This was augmented by an embarked staffs, including a regional staff led by a Ghanaian admiral on the German combat support ship Bonn.
Conduct at sea
The at-sea phase was preceded by a pre-sail training for the MIO-teams by US, German and Spanish instructors. The at-sea phase from 19-21 April 2014 covered a range of scenarios including illegal fishing, arms smuggling, human trafficking, illegal bunkering and piracy. With the exception of the Bonn, which served as the embarked staff’s flagship, all extra-regional warships and some Nigerian Navy vessels served as target ships for the MIO-teams.
The experience made on board the German frigate Hamburg was representative for the conduct of the exercise and challenges experienced by the MIO teams and their proficiency. Teams from Benin, Nigeria and Togo boarded the Hamburg which alternatingly assumed the role of an illegally fishing vessel and a gun runner. The scenarios had been scripted by the American-led exercise control staff.
Of the three MIO-teams the Nigerian Special Boat Service (SBS) team deployed from NNS Thunder displayed the highest degree of professionalism, tactical acumen and ability to graduate their approach. Although clearly trained and conditioned with the hostile opposition of illegal bunkerers, kidnappers and hijackers in mind they were able to exercise restraint and judgement appropriate to the situation. In spite of good tactical procedures their primary challenge was communication between team elements as well as with their mothership. The latter in turn suffered from poor responsiveness of the MOC, which resulted in the SBS team being “stranded” on the target vessel for 2 hours until a decision to detain the suspect vessel and provide back-up for the team could be obtained.
The Beninese boarding team from the patrol boat Oueme was representative of the average MIO teams deployed by minor West African coastal states. The recent expansion of Nigerian piracy into Beninese waters and the aggressive response that Benin launched together with Nigeria in the form of “Operation Prosperity” had shaped their approach to VBSS. The team carried out the boarding with a high degree of pre-emptive violence including death threats. Modestly equipped and with poor communications to their own ship, the team was clearly aware of its vulnerability and consequently tense throughout the scenario.
The Togolese team, finally, represented the low end of experience found amongst some of the very small and unseasoned West African navies. The absence of even the most basic equipment for VBSS operations was reflective of the Togolese Navy’s operational readiness for this type of maritime security activity. When the team boarded the Hamburg it was only their third boarding (in the course of the exercise) and the third boarding of this kind ever conducted by the Togolese Navy. At that point all equipment – weapons, helmets, life vests and RHIB (including coxswain) had to be borrowed from the German Navy. Consequently they were tactically unready, though clearly willing to learn. Nevertheless, at that point they were overwhelmed by the scenario originally envisaged for them and ended up conducting a boarding of a very compliant fishing vessel under supervision of their instructors.
Conduct on shore
Command and Control – and the inadequacy of it as it was displayed during the exercise – was a recurring theme. This was not just a view of the exercise controllers but an almost universal complaint by commanding officers of most participating units, who felt they received neither the guidance nor the information they expected and needed to carry out their mission.
The exercise exposed significant deficiencies in the MOCs’ (especially RMAC’s) ability to build and maintain a situation picture and to share maritime domain awareness (MDA) information and to process requests for decision-making. Although technical shortcomings were cited during the debrief it was clear that the issue was really an organisational and training shortfall. This includes to some extent the ability to utilise technology at hand.
The RMAC used a commercially available AIS-tracking programme called Sea Vision in order to maintain a situation picture. Because many vessels in Nigerian coastal waters do not send AIS signals, it was to be augmented by an integration of radar pictures from coastal stations and assets afloat. This solution was only implemented belatedly (with the assistance of U.S. Navy personnel) and in the meantime the Nigerian Navy resorted to only monitoring AIS signals.
The effectiveness of the RMAC suffered further from a staff organisation that in addition to not having been prepared for the exercise also appeared to be less than capable of dealing with real world incidents and reports, some of which were forwarded directly to the RMAC by participating units or MOCs. Decision-making, even for pre-authorized scenarios, was routinely escalated to flag-officer level resulting in considerable delays or even in no decision being taken at all. Interagency information sharing and exchange of maritime domain awareness information, such as with NIMASA or NPA, or the Maritime Trade Information & Security Centre (MTISC) in Ghana, which was part of the exercise brief, was not evidenced – be it for exercise purposes or in real life.
The exercise ended, predictably, with much back-patting of (especially Nigerian) top brass for a job well done. Clearly, the conduct of the exercise in itself is valuable and necessary, and arguably holding the exercise in that form was no mean feat (though the credit belongs mostly to the organisers from the U.S. Navy) however, more work needs to be done to achieve even a basic maritime security capability in the region. Beyond the preening of the Nigerian flag officers at the closing ceremony this challenge is largely understood and accepted on a working level of most Gulf of Guinea navies (ships’ commanders and exercise observers), many of whom expressed a genuine desire to continue their working relationships with the extra-regional navies. It will take time for this insight to permeate into the West African navies and until then it will need to be constantly refreshed in the minds of the West African senior naval officers and politicians.
Frustration over perceived African nonchalance or foot-dragging will continue to be a key experience for many U.S. and European participants in OBANGAME EXPRESS exercises in the foreseeable future. “FUBAR” as an American exercise staff member put it was probably the strongest characterization of what went during the exercise on at times, but as a Nigerian participant pointed out: just putting Nigerians and Cameroonians into the same room would have been unthinkable a year ago. So, is there hope after all?
The Gulf of Guinea continues to present the vexing challenge that those countries that jealously guard their right to establish maritime security are singularly incapable of doing so. Nevertheless, continual efforts like APS, AMLEP and Corymbe will provide incremental improvements or provide support for regional initiatives aimed at improving regional maritime security. Better operational maritime security capabilities will not address the problems of corruption, lack of prosecution or even the underlying transnational criminal structures, but as one of several practical measures for improving security they can encourage the willing and contain the unwilling and contribute to an improved security environment. Experience from other theatres, not least the Indian Ocean, have shown that such measures, while not eradicating the symptoms, can at least ameliorate them. While the complexity of this year’s OBANGAME EXPRESS may have overwhelmed some of the regional participants, it is important to keep the momentum going. Equally, extra-regional participants should not be discouraged by what may be perceived as slow (or non-existent) progress. It will be a long haul, measured in decades rather than years.
Dirk Steffen is a Commander (senior grade) in the German Naval Reserve with 12 years of active service between 1988 and 2000 and was assigned to the German Battlestaff of TG 501.01 on board FGS HAMBURG during Exercise OBANGAME EXPRESS 2014. He is normally Director Maritime Security at Risk Intelligence when not on loan to the German Navy. He has been covering the Gulf of Guinea as a consultant and analyst since 2004. The opinions expressed here are his alone, and do not represent those of any German military or governmental institutions.
Assume America’s vital interests are threatened by a distributed network of tribal insurgents Country Orange. The American government needs to close with and engage the enemy. The Orange government agrees to either openly willingly allow or silently cooperate with American military actions in Orange.
American military planners can either send in uniformed military, or PMCs. Preferring to privatize this operation, the government hires (the fictitious) “Mercenaries ‘R Us” to handle the job. To maximize its profits, Mercenaries ‘R Us declines to armor its contractors’ wheeled vehicles or aircraft, obviates back-up communications devices, decides against individual body armor, and arms its mercenaries only with pistols and long guns. They keep a light footprint and send small teams out into known hostile territory. The inevitable happens, and the enemy successfully ambushes the contractors, with many killed and wounded.1
If the injured PMCs were instead American servicemembers, they would be given medical treatment and rehabilitation through military medicine. The VA, for all its flaws, would attempt to help the wounded recover and restart their life after their injuries. If the fallen were uniformed military, their survivors would be taken care of with survivor benefits. All of these benefits were enacted by Congress to support the men and women who go abroad to do the nation’s work in harm’s way.
In our example, Mercenaries ‘R Us sent its employees downrange to do America’s bidding. That is where the similarities to the uniformed military members end. PMCs are not entitled to use military medicine.2 There is no VA for contractors. Death benefits are limited to whatever Mercenaries ‘R Us has arranged for its employees and their survivors—likely very little.3 As long as the stock price stays high and the dividends keep coming, the shareholders are unlikely to have very much concern for the human toll of warfare.4 Battles fought in the name of the American people may not be watched particularly closely by a group of investors primarily concerned with the bottom line.
In other words, by hiring Mercenaries ‘R Us to fight its battles, America has externalized the cost of war, particularly caring for its combat wounded and the survivors of the fallen. No congressional committees to answer to, no pictures on the nightly news honoring the fallen, no unpleasant reminders of the horror of war. The policymakers get to conduct their military expedition, and the economic cost is borne by the shareholders of Mercenaries ‘R Us.
But even on the economic front, hiring PMCs may not be wise in the first place, as contractors may not cost any less overall than uniformed servicemembers.5 Nor does outsourcing insulate the government from responsibility for its actors, because when the government contracts out to private actors to perform public services, those actors become agents for the state.6 Moreover, contract warfare seems to skirt at least the spirit of mandatory Congressional oversight of the nation’s military.7 For all these reasons and as the hypothetical above shows, the inherent tension between public, military service and private ends is fraught with peril.
Private military contractors are one facet of the military-industrial-congressional complex that ought to be dismantled. The profit motive is out of American prize courts, and letters of marque have fallen into disuse. The modern renaissance of PMCs seems an anachronism, perilously like the “large Armies of foreign Mercenaries” that so offended the founders. As disparate personalities as Machiavelli and Washington well understood, mercenaries introduce a host of problems that outweigh their seeming availability as ready, armed manpower. America should get out of the mercenary business.
Tim Steigelman is a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Oceans and Coastal Law at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland, Maine. He practices business law and admiralty at the Portland firm Kelly, Remmel & Zimmerman, and is a reserve naval officer. The opinions above are solely his own, and do not purport to express the views of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, nor any agency or department of the United States, nor any other organization or client.
1. This hypothetical is drawn from Burke v. Air Serv. Intern., Inc., 685 F.3d 1102 (D.C.Cir. 2012).
2. Out of necessity, injured contractors do receive medical care from military doctors when in theater, which is both a cost driver to the government and a point of contention. Once stabilized and sent home, the gratis health care ends and the injured mercenary is left with private medical insurance.
3. Citing Jimmie I. Wise, Outsourcing Wars: Comparing Risk, Benefits and Motivation of Contractors and Military Personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan (2009–2011), MBA Professional Report, Naval Postgraduate School (2012), available here.
4. A private company is generally required to maximize return for its shareholders, and corporate officers who make decisions at the expense of shareholder returns may face liability. Corporate oversight, such as it is, is exercised by shareholders.
5. See Isenberg, “Are Private Contractors Really Cheaper?”.
6. See, e.g.,West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, nn. 14-15 (1988).
7. See U.S. Constitution, Article I § 8 (requiring biannual reauthorization for the raising and supporting of armies).
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