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Maritime Partnerships and the Future of U.S. Seapower in the Indo-Pacific

By LCDR Arlo Abrahamson

Introduction

“Relationships don’t stay the same, they either get better or they get worse.” These were the words of U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis at the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Mattis was speaking about the importance of avoiding the status quo in America’s defense relationships by exercising “strategic reliability” through enduring military presence and meaningful security cooperation.1

Mattis’ concept of strategic reliability is an appropriate frame to examine the future of U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific. America’s rise as a naval power was predicated on the ability to form alliances and partnerships with nations that believe cooperative maritime security benefits common interests and enhances regional and global stability. The backbone of these alliances and partnerships derives from a fundamental belief in freedom of the seas, a central tenant of the international rules-based order, to which the former Commander of the Indo-Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris said “ensures all nations, big or small, have equal access to the shared  domains.”2 Since the fall of the Soviet Union, in what the late Charles Krauthammer described as “America’s unipolar moment,” U.S. seapower, along with the alliances and partnerships that bolster its preeminence in the Indo-Pacific, has largely gone unchallenged.3 However, with a rising China and its focus on building its own world-class, blue water navy, the future of U.S.-led, cooperative maritime security in the Indo-Pacific cannot be taken for granted.

The underlying question is can U.S. seapower with its existing framework of maritime alliances and partnerships remain the leading guarantor of Indo-Pacific  maritime security, or will China take on that role? The collective wisdom is that the U.S. Navy will continue to lead and foster cooperative maritime security efforts in the Indo-Pacific, but only with a careful reexamination of how the U.S. projects its seapower and postures itself in a new era of great power competition with China.

Alliances and Partnerships, the Foundations of U.S. Seapower  

With the presence of the U.S. Asiatic squadrons in the 19th century, the U.S. Navy made its debut in the Indo-Pacific region. Like most global navies, the U.S. Navy emerged in the region to protect and promote America’s growing interests in commercial trade and diplomatic relations. From the U.S. Navy’s debut in the region, alliances and partnerships helped bolster and sustain U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific. Those alliances and partnerships were cemented with the spoils of victory in World War II, with the establishment of U.S. naval bases and forward operating locations throughout the region.

Today, the U.S. Navy enjoys unprecedented access to the Indo-Pacific region, with naval forces forward or rotationally deployed in Guam, Japan, Korea, Okinawa, and Singapore, and visiting force agreements in the Philippines and Australia. This access enables the U.S. Navy’s power projection in the region and yields opportunities for the U.S. to play a constructive role in strengthening cooperative maritime security networks by, with, and through the assistance of allies and partners.

In February 2018 while underway in the South China Sea, Rear Admiral John Fuller, commander of the USS Carl Vinson Strike Group, told a group of academics and reporters that “nations in the Pacific are maritime nations. They value stability…That’s exactly what we are here for. This is a very visible and tangible presence. The United States is here again. U.S presence matters.”4

The prosperity and upward economic trajectories of Indo-Pacific nations are a byproduct of the relatively stable period that emerged after World War II. This prolonged period of regional stability was underwritten for the last 75-plus years in part due to unfettered U.S. naval presence. Sustained by a strong network of alliances and partnerships, the U.S. Navy has focused its forward presence on deterring conflict, ensuring access to the global commons, protecting U.S. commerce, while promoting U.S.-led security cooperation.

The U.S. Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower underscores the value of maritime security cooperation directly tied to U.S. interests, particularly in the economic and security spheres:

“By expanding our network of allies and partners and improving our ability to operate alongside them, naval forces foster the secure environment essential to an open economic system based on the free flow of goods, protect U.S. natural resources, promote stability, deter conflict, and respond to aggression.”6

The Indo-Pacific region features a complex stratosphere of global and economic interests with growing importance for the U.S., China, and the international community at large. The United Nations estimates more than 80 percent of global trade by volume travels by sea; with 60 percent of seaborne trade volume traveling through the Indo-Pacific region.7 Moreover, $5.3 trillion in seaborne trade passes through the South China Sea each year, nearly a third of all global trade. This includes $1.2 trillion in trade destined for U.S. ports and 80 percent of China’s hydrocarbons that pass through the strategic chokepoints of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore and onward to the South China Sea.

In such a dynamic maritime environment, the existing framework of rules, standards, norms and laws that assures free access to the global commons and open sealanes remains essential for regional stability. James Manicom notes that  “free access to the seas fosters not only economic growth within individual East Asian states, but also the creation of robust economic interdependence between East Asian states that creates a powerful disincentive for war.”9 A strong belief in free and open sealanes has not lost its relevance among Indo-Pacific nations, even with the threat of a rising and revisionist power in China that seeks to adjust the international order to benefit its own interests. Accordingly, great power competition with China presents both challenges and opportunities for the U.S. Navy in the Indo-Pacific. While Indo-Pacific nations make room for China’s rise as a maritime power, U.S. seapower should remain focused on preserving the rules-based order while enhancing stability that binds its existing network of allies and partners.10

Forward Presence and Cooperation in the Midst of a Rising Maritime Power

A rising Chinese maritime power harkens to the realities of geo-strategic position. The U.S. Navy serves as a mostly non-resident, yet established maritime power in the Indo-Pacific while China is embracing its role as the resident, emerging maritime power.

Against the backdrop of the routine presence of the U.S. Navy across the Indo-Pacific, nations are increasingly hosting the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) in their waters and ports. The PLAN is growing rapidly as a regional maritime powerhouse and blue water navy, and nations in the Indo-Pacific know they must cooperate and work with their Chinese neighbors at sea to maintain cordial and friendly relationships with the fledgling superpower.

In August 2018 China conducted its inaugural multilateral exercise with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) noting the maritime drills aimed “to expand China and ASEAN’s military communications and security cooperation.”11 Singapore, currently at the helm of the rotational leadership of ASEAN, lauded the exercise as a notable first step in enhancing interoperability with the PLAN. “At the end of the exercise, we have strengthened our ability to work together,” said Colonel Lim Yu Chuan, commanding officer of the Singapore Navy’s 185 Squadron.12

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Nov. 16, 2018) Cmdr. Albin Quiko, assigned to the Expeditionary Resuscitative Surgical System (ERSS) team, discusses medical capabilities with Lt. Miranda Norquay, the medical officer aboard the Royal Australian Navy landing helicopter dock ship HMAS Adelaide (L01), in the surgical room of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) during a tour. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anaid Banuelos Rodriguez/Released)

Despite the emergence of China as a rising maritime power, the U.S. still embodies its role as the principal leader of cooperative maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region. The U.S. Navy facilitates multilateral, cooperative security engagements such as Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), Malabar alongside the Japanese and Indian navies, and Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) that enables the U.S. to operate with ASEAN and South Asian partners such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. When manmade and natural disasters afflict the region, nations in the Indo-Pacific frequently request the assistance of the U.S. Navy in relief operations such as in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the search and rescue of Air Asia Flight 8501 that crashed into the Java Sea in 201, and more recently to assist in flood relief efforts in Sri Lanka in 2017.

Collin Koh, maritime studies researcher at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), notes that nations in the Indo-Pacific generally regard U.S. naval presence as constructive in promoting collaborative partnerships, capabilities, and stability:

“The U.S. naval presence is still seen as a stabilizing element in a geopolitically uncertain time in the region. Operationally, regional militaries see their engagements with the U.S. as a vehicle for extracting knowhow, expertise, and best practices for their own capacity building processes.”13

The U.S. Navy should use its credibility in the Indo-Pacific to advance the National Defense Strategy that advocates for strengthening the U.S. network of alliances and partnerships through “mutually beneficial collective security,” “reinforcing regional coalitions and security cooperation,” and “deepening interoperability.”14 Indo-Pacific nations have no choice but to cooperate with China as the emerging, resident maritime power, but that doesn’t diminish the U.S. Navy’s role in the region. In fact, fears of how China is using its rising maritime power may even strengthen it.

Focusing on Relationships as a Means to Balance China’s Influence

Edward Luttwak postulates that seapower during peacetime equates to “passive suasion” that can reassure allies and/or influence the behavior of nation states.15 In an increasingly competitive and contested maritime environment in the South China Sea and

Northeast Asia, the U.S. Navy’s mere presence in the region is increasingly viewed by nations within the context of strategic hedging of great power capabilities. In Richard Fontaine’s view, this hedging is “creating regional security challenges that incentivize cooperation and counterbalancing.”16

While some Indo-Pacific nations are careful to temper their public sentiment regarding U.S. naval presence, countries of the region clearly support U.S. seapower and continue to enable it. James Manicom argues that by virtue of Chinese maritime assertiveness in contested waters, “there is clearly still an appetite for U.S. seapower among East Asian states, which reinforces the legitimacy of American power.”17

In recent years the Philippines, Australia, and Singapore have upgraded their enhanced defense cooperation agreements with the U.S. that allows rotational deployments of ships and aircraft. Moreover, the U.S. has significantly enhanced maritime security cooperation, information sharing, and logistical support agreements with Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and India.18

MANILA, Philippines (Sept. 27, 2018) – Adm. Philip Davidson, Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and Gen. Carlito Galvez, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, sign agreements on security cooperation activities for 2019 at this year’s Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board Meeting at Tejeros Hall, AFP Commissioned Officers Club, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. (Photo by SN1 Donald Viluan PN/PAOAFP)

Despite its strong regional security networks and amicable relations with allies and partners, the U.S. Navy cannot take its status quo for granted. An easy assumption may be that maritime alliances and partnerships can endure through periods of non-engagement when priorities for naval platforms and people are needed for other pressing operations. This would be a strategic mistake for the U.S. in an environment where China is eager to fill even the smallest void left by the U.S. Navy’s competing priorities. Consequently, U.S. strategic choices in projecting routine naval presence and its investment in long-term military relationships correlate directly with Mattis’ concept of strategic reliability. On the operational and tactical levels, this translates to meaningful and routine maritime security cooperation where relationships form the foundation of trust for the alliance or partnership.

Dzirhan Mahadzir, former researcher at Malaysia’s Maritime Institute, notes that while fostering relationships through routine engagement is paramount, these relationships and persistent naval presence also “dissuades or prevents countries like China from diminishing the U.S. role in leading cooperative security.”19

Every time the U.S. Navy conducts a security engagement or exercise with its allies and partners, it sends a strategic message that aligns with America’s stated commitments to the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, in the age of tweets and 24-hour news cycles where organizational memories are short, the Navy’s engagement with allies and partners must be routinely executed to demonstrate U.S. resolve and commitment. Rest assured, U.S. friends and allies will take note of how it postures its seapower and forward presence to match words with deeds.

What could marginalize U.S. Seapower in the Indo-Pacific?

The task of fulfilling global commitments remains a challenge for the U.S. Navy with competing priorities both globally and domestically. Critics can point to the findings of the Navy’s reviews of surface force incidents that the U.S. 7th Fleet is overstretched in both commitments and platforms, a challenge complicated by the sheer geography of plying the waters of a vast Indo-Pacific operating area.20

After at-sea collisions by USS Fitzgerald near Japan and USS John S. McCain in the Singapore Strait, China took full advantage of the disarray and characterized the U.S. Navy in its state-run press as dangerous and undependable for Indo-Pacific nations.21 The U.S. Navy cannot be everywhere, and it certainly is not immune to accidents, but the solution to restoring any lack of faith in U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific is to remain engaged and double down on the U.S. commitment to free and open seas and regional stability by way of its alliances and partnerships.

GULF OF THAILAND (June 3, 2017) The littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) is underway in formation with ships from the Royal Thai Navy as part of a division tactics exercise during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Thailand. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Deven Leigh Ellis/Released)

William Choong, Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), posits that “Southeast Asian countries usually prioritize economic development over U.S. military presence in the region” as means for advancing their upward economic mobility.22 This trend in the region will continue and China is equipped to assert its economic leverage through ambitious programs such as the One-Belt, One Road initiative, which could be a potent undercurrent in nations’ decisions to engage with the U.S. in the maritime security sphere.

However, even with growing economic ties between Indo-Pacific nations and China, Collin Koh notes China’s economic influences have not discouraged most allies and partners from working closely with the U.S. in security cooperation engagements:

“Even as Indo-Pacific countries move toward China in economic ties, we don’t see a let down in enhancing and building security relations with the U.S. This can only mean these governments are intent on keeping these military ties with the U.S. in the midst of their wariness towards a growing Chinese shadow.”23

The U.S. Navy possesses adequate technology, diverse naval platforms, and perhaps most important, the creativity and ingenuity in its people, to remain relevant and engaged with allies and partners across the Indo-Pacific and retain its principal leadership role. Yet with the realities of great power competition, skepticism will not cease completely, and tepid or inconsistent engagement will cast doubts of U.S. resolve. In essence, any marginalization of U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific will be a strategic choice, not a preordained destiny.

Practical Considerations for Sustaining U.S. Seapower

The National Defense Strategy contends the U.S. military must “outthink, out maneuver, out-partner, and out-innovate” America’s adversaries and competitors.24 In this vein, practical considerations for cooperative maritime security engagement should be considered carefully. The U.S. Navy must continue to demonstrate credible, lethal, and distributed seapower.25 This must be accomplished using the full breadth of naval power and associated platforms that can operate adeptly in the littorals, global commons and in contested grey zone spaces.

The 3rd Fleet forward initiative is a prudent step to deploy additional naval assets to the Indo-Pacific to enhance presence operations and maritime security cooperation engagements and exercises. Moreover, the U.S. Navy should continue to harness the employment of Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships in security cooperation engagements ranging from logistics interoperability to operating with partner navies at sea. Progress has already been made with the inclusion of expeditionary fast transport ships (EPF) and expeditionary transfer docks (ESD) in a number of exercises and engagements throughout the region.26 The value of security cooperation with small, expeditionary units should not be underestimated. Diving and salvage subject matter expert exchanges, explosive ordnance disposal team engagements, civil engineering exchanges with Seabees, and small boat operations are in high demand for many of the U.S. Navy’s partners in the region, particularly in South and Southeast Asia.27

Lastly, the U.S. Navy should seek more opportunities to work jointly with other U.S. military services during cooperative security engagements. Partnering with other U.S. services, including the U.S. Coast Guard, increases opportunities, scope, and the quality of engagements with allies and partners while prudently managing finite resources in manpower and available platforms.

In practical terms, maritime security cooperation is military diplomacy. As with all forms of national diplomacy, the task is never quite finished.28 The byproduct of a broad cooperative maritime security strategy is cumulative when measuring the value of all engagements and activities. The late Admiral J.C. Wylie posits that cumulative operations, much like effective diplomacy, can advance national interests systematically:

 “…the entire pattern is made up of a collection of lesser actions, but these lesser or individual actions are not sequentially interdependent. Each individual one is no more than a single statistic, an isolated plus or minus, in arriving at the final result.” 29

Wylie’s view of cumulative operations provides a suitable template to assess the value of cooperative maritime security engagements across the Indo-Pacific. Engagements large and small all matter when assessed holistically and contribute toward the greater goal of advancing U.S. interests and strengthening seapower.

More importantly, the cumulative effect of sustained U.S. naval presence and engagement sends an important message to allies, partners, and adversaries alike that America is an Indo-Pacific maritime power that remains committed to its role as the principle guarantor of regional stability.  

Conclusion

The future of U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific is filled with challenges yet ripe with opportunity. As the National Defense Strategy notes, “the willingness of rivals to abandon aggression will depend on their perception of U.S. strength and the vitality of our alliances and partnerships.” 30

China’s rising maritime power should not threaten U.S. maritime superiority. U.S. seapower will only be marginalized by inaction induced by lack of will or by strategic choice. While both the U.S. and China have an important role to play in preserving peace in the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. Navy is uniquely positioned to remain a regional leader of cooperative maritime security due to the values it promotes and the stability it underwrites through sustained naval presence.

Competing operational priorities and finite resources are a reality for a forward-deployed maritime power. Yet these challenges should not deter routine security cooperation with allies nor should it equate to neglect of smaller, less strategic maritime partners. China’s growing economic influence, sometimes coercive in nature, also raises doubts about the sustainability of U.S. alliances and partnerships.

The future of U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific remains viable so long as it remains embedded in the alliances and partnerships that sustain it. This requires routine naval presence, reassurance when necessary, meaningful military relationships, and as Secretary Mattis suggested, these actions culminate in strategic reliability. In this frame, U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific remains as relevant today as it ever was.

Lt. Commander Arlo Abrahamson is a career public affairs officer with the U.S. Navy and current graduate student at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He has served operational and staff tours in Japan, Korea, and Singapore with the U.S. 7th Fleet operating as a spokesperson for the U.S. Navy while supporting major exercises and security cooperation engagements across the Indo-Pacific. Abrahamson holds a Masters Degree in Mass Communication from San Diego State University.

References

1. James Mattis, Remarks at Plenary Session of Shangri-La Dialogue, 2 June 2018, accssed 25 Sept, 2018,  https://dod.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1538599/remarks-by-secretary-mattis-at-plenary-session-of-the-2018-shangri-la-dialogue/

2. Harry B. Harris,  Keynote Remarks at the Galle Dialogue, 28 Nov 2016, accessed 11 Sept 2018, http://www.pacom.mil/Media/Speeches-Testimony/Article/1013623/sri-lanka-galle-dialogue/

3. Charles Krauthammer, The Unipolar Moment, 20 July 1990, accessed 22 Sept 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1990/07/20/the-unipolar-moment/62867add-2fe9-493f-a0c9-4bfba1ec23bd/?utm_term=.d50667a20b8a

4. Agence France Press (AFP), U.S. Admiral: U.S. Presence Matters, 15 Feb 2018,  accessed 15 Sept 2018, https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/south-asia/article/2133506/us-presence-matters-admiral-aboard-uss-carl-vinson-says-carrier

5. U.S. Navy. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, 9 March 2015. Accessed 10 September 2018, http://www.navy.mil/local/maritime/150227-CS21R-Final.pdf

6. U.S. Navy. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. 9, March 2015. Accessed 10 September 2018, http://www.navy.mil/local/maritime/150227-CS21R-Final.pdf

7. CSIS Chinapower, How Much Trade Transits the South China Sea, 2018,  accessed 14 Sept 2018, https://chinapower.csis.org/much-trade-transits-south-china-sea/

8. New York Times, “The South China Sea, explaining the dispute,” 15 July 2016,  accessed 20 Sept 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/15/world/asia/south-china-sea-dispute-arbitration-explained.html

9. James Manicom, “Chinese and American Seapower in East Asia, Is Accomodation Possible?,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 37, No. 3 (2014): 345-371. DOI: 10.1080/01402390.2014.900753

10. Tan Weizhen, “China’s military and economic power cannot be denied and the U.S. has to make room,” 17 Sept 2018, accessed Sept 25, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/18/china-military-is-growing-us-must-make-room-eurasia-groups-kaplan.html

11. Fathin Ungku (Reuters News), “China, Southeast Asia Kick Off Inguaral Mariime Drills”,  Reuters.com, 3 Aug 2018, accessed 11 Sept 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-asean-singapore-navy/china-southeast-asia-kick-off-inaugural-maritime-drills-idUSKBN1KO0S7

12. IBID.

13. Dr. Collin Koh (Rajaratnam School of International Studies RSIS), email correspondence to author, Sept 21, 2018.

14. U.S. Department of Defense,  U.S. National Defense Strategy, Washington, D.C.: Secreatary of Defense, 19 Jan 2018.

15. Edward Luttwak, “Political Uses of Seapower,” Studies in International Affairs (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 23 (1974).

16. Richard Fontaine, “Networking Security in Asia,” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 3 (2017), 45-62.

17. James Manicom, “Chinese and American Seapower in East Asia, Is Accomodation Possible?,” Jounal of Strategic Studies 37, no. 3 (2014), 345-371. DOI: 10.1080/01402390.2014.900753

18. Congressional Research Service, “U.S. Strategic and Defense Relationships in the Asia-Pacific Region,” Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division, January 2007, accessed Oct 1 2018. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33821.pdf

19. Dzirhan Mahadzir (Maritime Institute of Malaysia), email correspondence to author, 22 Sept, 2018.

20. U.S. Navy, Comprehensive Review of Recent Surface Force Incidents, March 2018,  accessed 19 Sept 2018, https://www.public.navy.mil/usff/Pages/usff-comprehensive-review.aspx.

21. Hueling Tan, “USS John McCain collision met with applause in China, state run media reports”, CNBC.com, 21 Aug 2017, accessed 26 Sept 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/21/uss-john-s-mccain-accident-created-applause-chinese-state-media.html.

22. Dr William Choong, email correspondence to author, Oct 20, 2018.

23. Dr. Collin Koh (RSIS), email correspondence to author, Sept 21, 2018.

24. U.S. Department of Defense,  U.S. National Defense Strategy, Washington, D.C.: Secretary of Defense, 19 Jan 2018.

25. Thomas Rowden, VADM,  Peter Gumataotao, RDML,  Peter, Fanta, RDML,  “Distributed Lethality”,  U.S. Naval Institute,  January 2015, accessed Sept 24, 2018. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2015-01/distributed-lethality

26. Mahadzir, Dzirhan,  “U.S. Plans to Expand Naval Engagements in Southeast Asia using LCS and EPFs”, USNI News, 21 Nov 2017, accessed 24 Sept, 2018, https://news.usni.org/2017/11/21/u-s-plans-expand-naval-engagements-southeast-asia-using-littoral-combat-ships-epfs

27. Doornbos, Caitlin,  “Navy and Marine Corps begins this Year’s  CARAT Drills in Thailand”,  Stars and Stripes,  14 June 2018,  accessed 27 Sept, 2018. https://www.stripes.com/news/pacific/navy-marine-corps-begin-this-year-s-carat-drills-in-thailand-1.532680

28. Adams, Gordon, Murray, Shoon, Mission Creep, The Militarization of Foreign Policy? (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2014).

29. J.C. Wylie, Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press 1989), 22.

30. U.S. Department of Defense,  U.S. National Defense Strategy, Washington, D.C.: Secretary of Defense, 19 Jan 2018.

Featured Image: YOKOSUKA, Japan (June 14, 2018) Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Joey Legaspi (left) verifies a Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) patient during a mass patient disembarkation bilateral training exercise between the United States and JMSDF. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey L. Adams/Released)

Strategic Loss: How EU Sanctions Affect Russia’s Ability to Replace its Sunken Dry-Dock

By Lieutenant Commander Peter Barker, RN

The icy waters of Murmansk harbor now cover one of the world’s largest floating dry-docks. Last week, a catastrophic power failure seems to have caused the dock’s pumps to jam, rapidly flooding the ballast tanks. As a result, PD-50, the largest floating dry-dock of the Russian Navy, sank to the bottom of the shipyard and now lies 160 feet below the surface.

Much attention has focused on damage to Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kutznetsov, which was in PD-50 at the time of the incident. However, the loss of the dry-dock may have a more significant long-term impact on Russia’s ability to sustain its Northern Fleet. As a consequence, the ability of Russia to recover, repair, or even replace the dock assumes considerable importance because it is a maintenance asset of strategic import.

Russia’s ability to overcome this setback is further complicated by European Union (EU) sanctions, where the legal and practical effects of the EU sanctions regime will strongly affect Russia’s ability to replace this key maritime asset.

Sanctions and Dry Docks

The EU sanctions regime against Russia is conducted under the auspices of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. It is directly applicable in EU law, meaning that it takes effect without the need for national legislation (in fact, most countries have no separate national sanctions regime against Russia). EU sanctions were established in March 2014 as a response to Russia’s activities in Ukraine. They have remained in force since and are reviewed at six-month intervals by the EU Council. The sanctions recently were extended until 31 January 2019. Further, the EU Council has stated that it will continue renewing these sanctions until the complete implementation of the Minsk agreement.

The EU sanctions are a range of measures including asset freezing, an import ban on items from the Crimea and Sevastopol, and a ban on tourism to the same areas. More pertinently for this discussion, sanctions have been enacted in specific economic sectors. This includes a ban on arms sales to Russia (article 4 Council Regulation (EU) 833/2014) and an export ban on dual-use goods (article 2 Council Regulation (EU) 833/2014), with minor amendments being made in Regulations 960/2014 and 1290/2014.

Proceeding on the assumption that these sanctions will remain in place for the foreseeable future, the question is whether the export ban on arms or dual-use goods includes replacement parts for PD-50—or indeed an entirely new dock—if supplied from within the EU.

Looking first at the arms question arising from article 4, the list of prohibited equipment is detailed in the EU Common Military List (2015/C 129/01). The most relevant items are ML9.1 (“vessels (including components) designed or modified for military use”) and ML17b (“construction equipment specifically designed for military use”). Although a floating dry dock, or the components to repair it, may fit the description of a “vessel” or “construction equipment,” it would be difficult to argue that a floating dry dock is designed for military use. It is even harder to conclude that a floating dry dock is specifically designed for military use. Components for a floating dry dock (or even a dock itself) are therefore unlikely to be considered arms under article 4 and would not be caught by the ban on arms sales.

The ban on dual-use goods, set forth in article 2, is more likely to be applicable. Dual-use items are defined in Council Regulation (EU) 428/2009 and include all items that can be used for civil and military purposes. Military end-use includes the “use of production equipment and components for the maintenance of military items,” as stated in article 4(2)(b). Although PD-50 is owned and operated by a private company, this definition focuses on the use of the equipment rather than the owner. The use of a dry-dock for the maintenance of an aircraft carrier (indisputably a military item) strongly suggests that it is caught by this provision. One could argue that this is an unduly broad interpretation of the phrase “production equipment,” but a contextual reading of the article clearly shows that these provisions are intended to cover a wide range of items that may be used to support military infrastructure.

This conclusion is bolstered by article 2(1) of Reg. 833/2014. Article 2(1) states that where the end-user is the Russian military, any dual-use item shall be deemed to be for military use. Again, an argument could be constructed that the private ownership of the dock places it outside the scope of the provision by asserting that the end-user is the company rather than the Russian military. However, given the almost exclusive use of the dock for warship repair and maintenance, a strong case can be made that, appearances aside, the end-user of the dock (or any replacement) would be the Russian military, even if the actual ownership rests elsewhere.

The only caveat to the above analysis is that the sanctions do not affect the completion of contracts entered into before 1 August 2014. It is possible that the purchase agreement for the dock included an ongoing contractual obligation to provide replacement parts. If so, this would be unaffected by the sanction regime. In reality, it is very unlikely that such a provision was included and thus, this caveat can probably be discounted.

Conclusion

Unsurprisingly, there are few concrete details about the state of PD-50 and the prospects for the recovery of this strategic asset. Even a Russian news agency has accepted that this is a complex operation and unlikely to be completed within six months. A rapid repair or replacement of the dock is required to avoid severe pressures on the maintenance and availability of crucial Northern Fleet units and to conduct complex modernization work. Any support for this work is likely to be hampered by the EU sanctions regime, which now assumes additional significance following the sinking of PD-50.

Lieutenant Commander Peter Barker is a serving Royal Navy officer and barrister. He is currently the Associate Director for the Law of Coalition Warfare at the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law (@StocktonCenter), part of the U.S. Naval War College. He can be contacted at peter.barker.uk@usnwc.edu.

These views are presented in a personal capacity and  are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any ministry or government.

Featured Image: Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kutznetsov in dry-dock PD-50. (Lev Fedoseyev via Tass)

The Bad Day Scenario and Shaping the Navy for Global Responsiveness, Pt. 1

By Jimmy Drennan

At 0830 Monday morning “BREAKING NEWS” banners start flooding cable news broadcasts, home pages, and Twitter feeds, but the headlines are not all telling the same story. One network reports a British-flagged crude oil tanker suffered a catastrophic explosion in the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, the critical chokepoint just south of Yemen through which nearly all maritime commerce flows between the Middle East and the Western World. Initial reports point to a naval mine strike. Separately, various websites are reporting heavily armed military vehicles and masked troops with no flags storming an Eastern Turkish town. Meanwhile, Twitter is erupting with the hashtag #WarWithChina after Chinese military officials claimed responsibility for the downing of a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane in the South China Sea, saying the aircraft had violated its territorial airspace.

As the U.S. military’s top brass gathers around a conference table in the Pentagon a question is being muttered around the room before the Secretary of Defense steps in. It’s the same question many are probably asking themselves at home in their living rooms and kitchens: “Can this really be happening?”

Thankfully this is a purely hypothetical “Bad Day,” but who can say that some nightmare scenario like the one described above will not occur someday? Similar events have independently taken place in the past and conditions exist today for history to repeat itself. In fact, the multitude of regional conflicts affecting the U.S. and its allies today makes it more likely that multiple trigger events will occur near simultaneously. Not through some coordinated, multi-pronged attack from an Axis of Evil, but rather because America has so many potential adversaries and they don’t tend to de-conflict their calendars. As threats to U.S. national security and interests continue to proliferate, the Bad Day Scenario described above becomes increasingly likely.

As one might expect, this is not the first attempt to consider the implications of a worst case scenario for the Navy. In his article “The Hunt for a Small Surface Combatant,” Dr. Norman Friedman described a Navy briefing entitled “A Bad Day in 2003” which examined multiple independent crises in the wake of 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As in today’s scenario, one obvious answer was the Navy needed more ships. Back in 2003, the focus was on the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) with its high speed, modular, and (supposedly) low-cost design. But the focus today should be on fleet design, not ship design. No matter how you cut it, the Bad Day Scenario would be difficult to address for even the most advanced navy in history. A solution will not be found simply in fielding a new type of ship or by building more ships.

This series will consider the Bad Day Scenario, how the Navy could respond to such a challenge today, and what steps it could take to be better postured to respond in the future. Examining emerging technologies and operational concepts to respond to such a scenario reveals opportunities to make the U.S. Navy even more capable and lethal in the future. These insights could be applied every day, not just in times of crisis, making more common scenarios all the more manageable.

If the Navy had to Fight Tonight

If we woke up to the Bad Day Scenario one day the first challenge would be to verify the accuracy of the news reports. Even if the U.S. Government had its own intelligence to corroborate, would the events merit a military response? Against whom? If the decision were made to utilize military power, employing the Navy would be an ideal response . The wheels could be set in motion quickly, but leaders would still retain decision space if a non-military solution could be achieved. Still, setting the wheels in motion would not be easy. Under the Navy’s traditional force structure and operational patterns, responding to the Bad Day Scenario would involve complex, improvised planning and re-coordination, incurring great cost and risk to current and planned operations.

As multiple independent crises break out could the Navy deploy or reposition these assets to several separate regions at the drop of a hat? Possibly, but it would involve more than a little luck. The trigger events suggested above occurred in three different military theaters – the oil tanker struck by a mine in the Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR), the attack on the Turkish town in the European Command (EUCOM) AOR, and the downed aircraft in the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) AOR. One should look at how the Navy might respond to the Bad Day Scenario if it had to use the assets it has today or, as many military commanders like to say, “fight tonight.”  The Navy would likely default to applying its premier force packages – Carrier Strike Groups (CSG), Amphibious Readiness Groups (ARG), Expeditionary Strike Groups (ESGs) and fast attack and guided missile submarines (SSN / SSGN) – to the maximum extent possible.  A deployed CSG or ARG would often have to be in the right place at the right time. Forces in port would need to be in the right phase of the training and maintenance cycles in order to be primed for a surge.  

The Pacific Fleet would clearly respond to Chinese aggression with its assigned CSG, but even if PACFLT could spare a CSG for CENTCOM or EUCOM it could take days to weeks to respond simply due to distance. After 9/11, the Navy began continuously deploying at least one CSG to CENTCOM, and occasionally two during times of heavy tension. But times have now changed. In 2015, for the first time in eight years the Navy suffered a gap in its CSG presence in the CENTCOM AOR, citing a strain on resources. With the advent of Dynamic Force Employment, an innovative but nascent approach to more agile deployments, it will soon be more noteworthy for a CSG to be stationed in the Middle East than not. Even with Dynamic Force Employment  it stands to reason the Navy would still fall back on a more traditional deployment model.

Even if we assume CENTCOM has a CSG at its disposal, could it respond to the incident in Turkey, a NATO ally whom the U.S. is sworn to aid through a mutual defense agreement? Intelligence reports and common sense could point to Russia as the faceless aggressor, and there are almost always Russian naval forces operating in the Black Sea and Mediterranean. Yet, if the U.S. decides to shift the CSG to the EUCOM AOR to deal with the higher-end threat, the carrier and her escorts still have to get through the Strait of Bab el Mandeb. The latest reports indicate the tanker that exploded in the strait was struck by a floating mine, and Houthi rebels in Yemen have already proclaimed their ability to close the strait. The risk to a CSG could be unacceptable. While the Navy is deciding how to hold a Russian naval force at risk until a second CSG can surge deploy from the East Coast (days? weeks? months later?), the international community is clamoring for the U.S. and its allies to clear the strait so vital commerce can continue unmolested. As national leadership tries to balance these concerns, the limits that stem from force structure and potential combat operations would shape options for employing the Navy.

A New Navy Ready for Surprise

No doubt the Navy would eventually respond to the Bad Day Scenario with today’s force structure, but it could incur significant cost in terms of money, time, relationships, and strategic objectives. The Bad Day Scenario would be difficult for today’s Navy to address, but emerging trends in technology, management, and operational concepts can present a new option for the Navy: a disaggregated, lethal, and resilient fighting force that can turn a bad day into an unparalleled triumph.

Jimmy Drennan is the Vice President of CIMSEC. These views are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of any government agency.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (March 15, 2018) – An MV-22 Osprey assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 262 prepares to land on the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Granito) 180315-N-LK571-0025

How the Fleet Forgot to Fight, Pt. 4: Technical Standards

Read Part 1 on Combat Training. Part 2 on Firepower. Part 3 on Tactics and Doctrine.

By Dmitry Filipoff

Introduction

The nature of a system’s technical performance is an important foundation for developing tactics and gauging readiness. Naval warfare is especially technically intensive given that a modern warship is an advanced machine made up of many complex systems.

Combat systems are rapidly evolving in the Information Age and are frequently upgraded through new software updates. This adds to the challenging of maintaining current skills and can require a force to regularly retrain its people. However, warfighting culture characterized by scripted training can mask a decline in technical competence. Such a decline can be seen in how standards fell for some of the most important tools that help the Navy guard against tactical surprise.

Environmental Factors

When American warships came under missile fire in the Red Sea two years ago they could have been far better prepared. Key environmental data that would affect the parameters of any anti-air engagement was left unaccounted for, thereby contributing an important degree of tactical surprise. Many years earlier the Navy had finalized key tools and procedures that would promise a significant evolution in environmental awareness and would have greatly mitigated this sort of tactical surprise. Somehow these tools never made it into the fleet in time.

John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL) has been at the forefront of the Navy’s technology development for decades, including leading work on networking and surface-to-air missile capabilities. In 1982 the Navy’s Aegis Program Office began supporting JHU APL work on radar propagation models. This effort intended to more precisely understand the performance of the Aegis combat system and better account for environmental variables.1 JHU APL expounded on the important tactical implications of knowing those environmental variables:

“Environmental impacts on missile detection can be complex. The environment may limit radar detection ranges and cause degradations in track continuity through the effects of land, sea, and precipitation clutter. Communications systems may experience outages or periods of increased interference. Weapon systems may encounter midcourse guidance errors and variations in illuminator power-on-target and bistatic clutter into the missile, which affect the missile engagement envelope. In addition, the environment affects radar configuration, ship stationing, situational awareness, and missile doctrine selection.”2

Variables such as the temperature of the ocean and air, humidity, sea state, and wind speed have a strong effect on how radar energy propagates throughout the atmosphere. The chart below shows the range at which a target transitioned into track by an AN/SPY-1 radar across 20 Navy live fire exercises in differing environmental conditions. It shows how environmental factors can affect detection range by as much of a factor as three to four.3 It points out how firm track ranges could be reconstructed from post-exercise analysis that factored in environmental data gathered by key measuring tools such as rocketsondes and helicopters equipped with environmental sensors.

Original caption from JHU APL source: Twenty cases showing variation in actual AN/SPY-1 performance for littoral environments are shown in blue (actual firm track range). Cases where timely helicopter and/or rocketsonde measurements supported postexercise AN/SPY-1 performance analysis are shown in red (simulated firm track range).

Radar energy can behave very differently when acted on by environmental factors. Radar pulses can be absorbed by the atmosphere, sapping the amount of energy that can be reflected back toward the receiver. Ducting can create radar holes and skip zones where targets cannot be detected. Refraction can even make targets appear to change direction. Atmospheric effects can also worsen radar clutter on the ocean surface hundreds of miles away from the radar.4  

These factors combine to affect the key performance metric of probability of detection and can even create false contacts. Because radar energy acted on by environmental phenomena will often have more unpredictable and complex behavior compared to simpler line-of-sight detection these effects can challenge radar clutter rejection algorithms that are built into combat systems.

One of the most significant tactical implications of the environment is that certain conditions can allow a ship to break through the fog of war and see through the radar horizon limitation. Refracted radar energy can travel far along the surface and allow a ship to detect a sea-skimming target for many tens of miles below and beyond the radar horizon. Environmental awareness is therefore critical to improving threat perception and adding to a ship’s depth of fire in a most crucial zone of tactical action.

Radar propagation models where the figure on the right shows how surface ducting conditions allow radar energy to bend over the horizon. (Source: Donna W. Blake et. al, “Uncertainty Results for the Probability of Raid Annihilation Measure,” 2006.)

These effects combine to make mastering environmental awareness a major tactical priority. A tactical memorandum (TACMEMO) issued by the Surface Warfare Development Group in 1995 reinforced this point:

“To adequately define expected detection ranges for a given threat, an accurate assessment of the environment and its impact on sensor systems and employment is required. Depending on the environmental conditions being experienced, system performance could be enhanced or degraded. The primary environmental factors which impact detection ranges are temperature, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity, and local weather. The operating environment (e.g. near land/overland, littoral, or open ocean) also (affects) ranges.”5 

These environmental effects are known, but the operational challenge is in accurately measuring them in real time and then making the necessary tactical adjustments.6 Potential solutions take the form of environmental sensors as well as modeling software that is wedded to combat systems. However, while shipboard sensors and measurements can collect environmental data, certain tools are required to gather additional data beyond what can only be gathered from the deck of a ship in order to produce higher-fidelity models.

High-quality environmental assessments were proven to require crucial range-dependent data that must be collected by periodically launched tools such as helicopters equipped with environmental sensors. JHU APL’s prototype SEAWASP system would model environmental conditions and would monitor the need to launch an expendable tool called a rocketsonde that was considered “the most effective of the expendable sensor packages for providing real-time environmental information” and where the rocketsonde was described as “essential for supporting radar performance assessments under many conditions.”7 JHU APL scientists also described the environmental helicopter as “the platform of choice” and suggested “the future may see environmental sensors on operational helicopters.”

Original caption from JHU APL source: Helicopter sawtooth pattern. Temperature, pressure, humidity, altitude, latitude, longitude, and meteorological measurements are collected on helicopter descents.

By 2001 these systems were tested by operational units in several deployments and received enthusiastic reviews for inclusion in future Aegis baselines. The Navy Program Executive Office for Theater Surface Combatants (PEO TSC) asked JHU APL to plan to backfit their prototype SEAWASP environmental assessment capability onto existing ships and for incorporation into future system baselines.8 Guidance for using the SPY radar to help determine the presence of atmospheric effects was included in the form of appendices to the Aegis TACMEMO.9 Helicopter-based environmental assessment was mandated for Aegis Combat Systems Ship Qualification Trials (CSSQTs).

Yet somehow these efforts fell flat. Despite adequate testing and strong recommendations that the Navy widely field measuring tools like rocketsondes and helicopter-based sensors it appears these simple yet critical systems are almost nowhere to be found in the Navy’s operational forces today.

The Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) described the main lessons learned from the 2016 Red Sea attacks:

“The first and perhaps most significant lesson emerged from observing the impact of the Red Sea littoral environment on combat-system performance during an actual engagement. Until the events in October, the best understanding of environmental impact on system performance had come from computer simulations and live-fire exercises in the less-challenging conditions in the Virginia Capes or Southern California operational areas…We have updated our AWS, SSDS, and SPY radar doctrines to account for environmental impacts to system performance previously unobserved during a live Standard missile engagement.”10 

Previously unobserved environmental conditions may have turned into tactical surprise in part because the Navy’s best understanding of these variables may have come from only a couple areas close to home that feature test ranges. Fixed test ranges can constrain environmental awareness through consistent conditions. Atmospheric refractivity also happen to be far more intensive in littoral regions. However, it seems the Navy lacked key environmental awareness in one of the world’s most important maritime chokepoints that lies within the Middle East littoral that was prioritized for a generation.11 

If the Navy wasn’t environmentally aware in the Red Sea because things were mostly tested near Virginia or California then what does the Navy not know about the environment in the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean, the South China Sea, or everywhere else in the world the Navy deploys? Does the Navy have specifically-tailored doctrine statements and combat system configurations for all of these environmental conditions?

PACIFIC OCEAN (Oct. 23, 2017) Lt. Rose Witt, the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) Supply Officer, assists in launching a rocketsonde from the flight deck of the ship. Mobile Bay is currently underway testing an AEGIS Baseline 9 upgrade to its Baseline 8 combat system in preparation for its upcoming deployment. (U.S Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad M. Butler/Released)

Once the environment is revealed to be crucial tactical context the force must develop an expeditionary environmental learning program as a most urgent necessity. The Navy already operates such programs to understand the environment on a global scale, such as how environmental factors have long been known to affect undersea operations and anti-submarine warfare. This understanding is operationalized through a global exercise program the surface fleet has maintained for decades, the Ship Antisubmarine Warfare Readiness and Effectiveness Measuring (SHAREM) program. Exercises under SHAREM are conducted across many geographic areas to account for different environmental factors thereby producing tailored tactics and revealing shortfalls.12 If not for environmentally-focused programs like SHAREM the tactical effectiveness of the surface fleet’s anti-submarine warfare capability would be far from ideal. 

But does the Navy have a similar program that specifically seeks to account for the tactical effects of atmospheric refractivity? These environmental effects not only impact radar energy, but radiofrequency energy more generally. According to JHU APL the performance of major capabilities such as close-in-weapons systems and critical networks like the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) were also “shown during field tests to strongly depend on atmospheric refractivity.”13 

The tactical implications are clear and profound, especially for networked warfighting. Environmental awareness is foundational to electromagnetic awareness. 

Original caption from source: Propagation diagram of a (a) weak evaporation duct, (b) surface-based duct (high intensity: bright). Radar PPI screen showing clutter map (dB) during the 1998 SPANDAR experiment resulting from a (c) weak evaporation duct, (d) surface-based duct. (Click to expand.)

SMWDC is setting an example by charging hard and implementing fast-paced corrective action after the Red Sea attacks:

“…Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training and live-fire exercises have been updated to keep pace…SMWDC teams have visited every deployed and soon-to-deploy ship to ensure each has the latest TTP, training, and combat-system configuration recommendations. Ashore, the Radar Systems Controller Enhanced Course has been restored as a critical tool to ensure our SPY radar operators are prepared for what they will face in theater. In addition, SMWDC has built a case study from these events that is being included in the curricula of tactical training schoolhouses across the fleet.”

Now the question remains as to how updated understanding of the environment will translate into other parts of the Navy’s force development. SMWDC said the attacks should result in updated performance models and pointed to the problem of the Navy having only a handful of baseline datasets drawn from the Virginia Capes and Southern California areas. The widespread lack of environmental assessment tools that were described as “essential” such as rocketsondes and helicopters with special sensors may also indicate very incomplete datasets. 

Whether it be training, test and evaluation, or wargaming, these insights born from the Red Sea attacks may require many other parts of the Navy to update baseline data and contemplate extensive retroactive action. Such action could take the form of replaying wargames with newly updated environmental parameters and conducting expeditionary test and evaluation in less familiar waters. 

Ultimately such an important evolution in environmental awareness should have been enough to prompt rapid and wide-ranging adaptation similar to what SWMDC is doing and what was hinted at years ago. At first, the Navy did appear to be in the process of introducing expected change. The importance of atmospheric refractivity on tactical possibility was being acknowledged in the form of new programs of record, tactical memoranda, and requirements, many dating back over twenty years ago. Upgraded environmental assessments were made mandatory in at least one key part of the Navy’s business in the form of Aegis CSSQTs. Key measuring tools such as rocketsondes and helicopters with environmental sensors were tested, proven, approved of, and required relatively little effort to equip.

Somehow the system comprehensively failed, and frontline warfighters came under fire while lacking the important degree of tactical awareness those key tools contribute. Now to best anticipate tactical surprise the Navy must look to update environmental understanding on a global scale.

 Sea surface currents and temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean (NASA)

SPY Radar 

The SPY radar is the most powerful radar on the Navy’s large surface combatants, and it is perhaps the most important set of eyes for the Aegis combat system. But this critical radar suffered a decline in standards. After describing several issues with SPY radar maintenance the 2010 Balisle report noted:

“The SPY radar has historically been the best supported system in the surface Navy. If the SPY radar is one of the most important systems in the Navy and central to our BMD mission for the foreseeable future, then it is assumed that less important systems could well be in worse material condition.”14

In his article, “Is Your SPY Radar Enhanced, Nominal, or Degraded?” Captain Jim Kilby recalled the Balisle report’s warning and described his own experience in witnessing a decline in radar maintenance. After reminiscing about past standards Kilby said that somewhere along the way the surface fleet had “lost some of this spirit”and that Sailors “do not have the cultural model to fall on when they report to the ship.” This loss of spirit and culture could be possibly interpreted as the degradation of standards. Kilby felt he ultimately had to “provide that leadership” himself.15 

Kilby may have felt he personally had to set a higher standard because he realized the Navy, institutionally, did not properly maintain it. The Balisle report suggested that Sailors are “perhaps losing their sense of ownership of their equipment and are more apt to want others to fix it.” Kilby relates a story where a contractor working as a combat systems instructor for his crew said he and his technicians used to have a tracking book so they “all knew where we were, combat-system performance-wise.” Captain Kilby then wondered to himself, “Why shouldn’t I know that too?” 

If something can be measured then it can usually be optimized. Kilby pointed out “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” so they “decided to measure and track key parameters to better manage the system.” He went on to discuss how he personally instituted a new process on the warship to track the performance of the SPY radar that would go “beyond a superficial indicator level.” Kilby realized he had to know the quantitative results of maintenance actions in order to know how radar performance was trending, such as with respect to key metrics like effective transmit power. He went on to personally invent and decide on a “quantitative SPY radar material goal” to provide to the crew. 

But is it really the responsibility of one ship’s captain to decide what the radar material goal should be for the SPY radar, let alone invent such a standard on his own? A crew that does not have a meaningful system to track the transmit power of their radar is like an armor crewman not knowing he should boresight the main gun of a tank, or an infantryman not knowing how to sight his scope. This was Kilby’s fifth Aegis tour and he certainly wasn’t inexperienced. His career track put him inside the Navy’s surface warfare directorate, the Ballistic Missile Defense office, and he partook in the Aegis Fire Controlman Deep Dive that resulted in new training. He also happened to invent this new radar tracking system around the first ballistic missile defense patrol of a freshly upgraded cruiser, a special unit that could find itself on the frontlines of defending against nuclear attack.

Perhaps change has taken place since Kilby published about his reforms. But it suggests that for a time the Navy did not have a meaningful set of standards in place for unit leaders to effectively know the performance of one of the most critical sensors in the fleet. What was Kilby’s personal invention clearly should have already been a Navy-wide process and standard. In the end his new methods were not unique innovations, but rather rediscovered responsibilities:

“SPY radar self-sufficiency can and should be supported by outside entities, but ultimately it is a function of my behavior, interest, and leadership. It is my responsibility. Specific results of transmitter power and phase must be understood, considered, and acted upon by operators and by me. The devil is in not knowing the details. As the commanding officer, I have to be personally involved. I cannot delegate this effort.”

Target Missiles

The Navy’s lack of appreciation for the anti-ship missile threat is not confined to its own limited arsenal of such weapons, but also extends to the inventory of target missiles that seek to replicate those threats for force development. The Navy allowed a significant shortfall to emerge in its inventory of target missiles where tools that realistically represent the supersonic anti-ship missile threat are now very few and far between.

A 2005 report by the Defense Science Board described the shortfall at the time as “dire” and that the supersonic target missile inventory was “substantially deficient.” It pointed out the discrepancy between the tools on hand and the common flight profiles of weapons in the hands of great power rivals:

“The area of greatest concern to the Task Force was our gap in supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles for testing. The Russians have deployed at least three such cruise missiles that involve either sea-skimming flight profiles or a high-altitude profile involving a power dive to the target. At this time, we have no test vehicles for either flight profile.”16

Once the anti-air Talos missile was retired in the late 70s the remaining inventory was converted into Vandal target missiles. The Vandal would be the Navy’s main tool for representing the supersonic sea-skimming missile threat for decades. For other threats the AQM-37C long served as the Navy’s target for high-flying supersonic flight. However, it is incapable of maintaining supersonic speeds while executing a powered dive or sea-skimming trajectory – the two common flight profiles of supersonic missile threats the Defense Science Board noted.

Flight profile of AQM-37C target missile. (Source: Presentation by Steve Berkel, AQM-37 Projection Coordinator, NAVAIR, 2004.)

The supersonic AQM-37C and Vandal target missiles were launched dozens of times per year for decades.17 But the firing rates fell to much lower levels after they left service in the early 2000s. After a viable replacement came online in 2005 in the form of the Coyote target missile the Navy would go on to launch less than 50 targets capable of supersonic sea-skimming flight across the next ten years.18 Admiral Phil Davidson also claimed that Navy units based on the East Coast went almost 13 years without shooting down any supersonic target missiles until 2016.19 

High-diver and sea-skimmer flight profiles of supersonic Coyote target missile (Source: Presentation by CAPT Pat Buckley, Aerial Target and Decoy Systems Program Office PMA-208, 2006.)

The Navy launches several hundred target missiles per year but almost all are slow, subsonic payloads that hardly represent the supersonic anti-ship missiles that are commonly found in the navies of great power competitors.20 It also appears that supersonic target missiles are almost always fired from land. This diminishes the realism of the events with respect to exploring varying environmental conditions, especially those that would be found in open-ocean warfare.21

In spite of this, the subsonic target missile that according to the Navy is its “workhorse” will be replaced by another subsonic payload.22 As more lethal supersonic and eventually hypersonic weapons proliferate the Navy’s target missile inventory will continue to be almost entirely made of subsonic payloads that fail to accurately represent these advanced threats. The disparity between the Navy’s target inventory and the true nature of the anti-ship missile threat is poised to widen further.

Optional flight profile of a subsonic BQM-74 target missile simulating terminal phase maneuvering. (Source: Presentation by John VanBrabant
Manager, Aerial Targets Business Development Integrated Systems Western Region, Northrop Grumman Corporation, NDIA Targets 2006.)

Supersonic target missiles certainly are very expensive tools and it is impractical to expect most units to have a chance to practice with them. However, these tools are invaluable for ensuring realism for key force development activities.

Consider all the lessons SMWDC is learning and translating into the surface fleet, especially through their restarted Live Fire With a Purpose (LFWAP) events that aim to “test and validate TACMEMOs and latest tactical recommendations.”23 For the sake of tactical development and high-end readiness what good may come from firing salvos of supersonic target missiles in the general direction of some of the Navy’s finest tacticians?

Doctrine Statements

For a force that is primarily made of highly sophisticated machines technical standards are a key part of warfighting readiness. In the case of naval warfare the abovementioned technical standards have especially important tactical consequences.

Naval warfare in the missile age is notable for having transcended the boundary of human limitations. The speed and intensity of engaging a salvo of anti-ship missiles that could be seconds away from impact is a tactical challenge that is mostly beyond the ability of a human to carefully manage with real-time inputs. Therefore the combat systems of warships, perhaps best exemplified by the Aegis combat system and the Ship Self-Defense System (SSDS), must be automated to an extraordinary degree to stand a chance of defeating missiles under trying circumstances.  

The role of the operator then is to program pre-set conditions and instructions into the combat system. These are known as doctrine statements, up to and including fully automated responses for highly lethal situations. These doctrine statements can be built around the characteristics and flight profiles of potential threats, and can dictate how the combat system will automatically combine the various capabilities of the ship to defeat those threats.24 These automated doctrine statements can be the Navy’s last line of defense against tactical surprise because even if Sailors are caught off guard by a sea-skimming salvo breaking over the horizon the automated combat system can carry the day.

Example of a Ship Self-Defense System (SSDS) engagement doctrine statement. (Source: Richard J. Prengaman et. al, “Integrated Ship Defense,” JHU APL Technical Digest)

Effectively countering the anti-ship missile threat is very much a matter of crafting doctrine statements well in advance of a combat situation. Sailors should not be put in a position where they are forced to rapidly reconfigure doctrine statements in the middle of the fight in order to survive. More ideally, Sailors will be familiar with a variety of well-tailored doctrine statements they can choose from to meet a range of situations.

It is essential to know the state of a radar’s energy output and to understand the environmental factors that dictate how that radar energy propagates. Both are fundamental baseline context for ascertaining the ability to detect targets, knowing how to configure combat systems, and managing emissions control.25 Certain environmental conditions can also raise the probability of false alarms, and there may be situations with little opportunity to intervene in an automated response to make timely corrections.

How well does the Navy understand the nature of guiding a semi-active homing weapon such as the Standard Missile through environmental conditions below the radar horizon? How well has the Navy configured doctrine statements to guard against skip zones and other environmental effects that complicate how a ship can see and engage targets through its radar? 

Radar propagation effects of environmental surface duct in the Persian Gulf. (Source: “Trident Warrior: Demonstrating the Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Characterizing the Marine Electromagnetic Propagation Environment.” Presentation by Dr. Peter Guest, Department of Meteorology, Naval Postgraduate School. Click to expand)

Consider the Red Sea combat events and how new doctrine statements and combat system configurations were key outputs from the learning experience, and how these updates were based on a specific environmental context. The Navy should look to this experience and see how it can learn similar lessons minus the risks of real combat. As an engine of tactical development can the Navy conduct expeditionary Live Fire With a Purpose events similar in design to the SHAREM program? Could the Navy produce refined doctrine statements by firing advanced target missiles in varying environmental conditions that resemble forward areas? Such a program could do well to sharpen the tool of Aegis.

Poor environmental awareness, low-fidelity target missiles, and lack of key radar performance metrics forms a recipe for less than ideal doctrine statements. Failing to maintain high technical standards across these areas suggests very suboptimal programming may be built into the automated combat functions of warships across the world.


Part Five will focus on Material Condition and Availability.


Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org.

References

1. J. Ross Rottier, John R. Rowland, Gerald C. Konstanzer, Julius Goldhirsh,
and G. Daniel Dockery, “APL Environmental Assessment for Navy Anti-Air Warfare,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8400/6b65f5cac14e71239fc5aa7e400444007036.pdf 

2. J. Ross Rottier, John R. Rowland, Gerald C. Konstanzer, Julius Goldhirsh,
and G. Daniel Dockery, “APL Environmental Assessment for Navy Anti-Air Warfare,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8400/6b65f5cac14e71239fc5aa7e400444007036.pdf 

3. James J. Sylvester, Gerald C. Konstanzer, J. Ross Rottier, G. Daniel Dockery,
and John R. Rowland, “Aegis Anti-Air Warfare Tactical Decision Aids,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. http://www.jhuapl.edu/techdigest/TD/td2204/Sylvester.pdf

4. Naval Surface Warfare Dalhgren Division, “Sensors: Challenges and Solutions for the 21st Century,” Leading Edge, Volume 7, Issue No. 2. https://www.navsea.navy.mil/Portals/103/Documents/NSWC_Dahlgren/LeadingEdge/Sensors/Sensors03.pdf 

5. John David Whalen, “Comparison of evaporation duct height measurement methods and their impact on radar propagation estimates,” Naval Postgraduate School, 1998. https://calhoun.nps.edu/bitstream/handle/10945/8118/comparisonofevap00whal.pdf?sequence=1 

6. Committee on Environmental Information for Naval Use, Ocean Studies Board of the National Research Council of the National Academies, Environmental Information for Naval Warfare,” 2003. https://www.nap.edu/read/10626/chapter/11#148

7. J. Ross Rottier, John R. Rowland, Gerald C. Konstanzer, Julius Goldhirsh,
and G. Daniel Dockery, “APL Environmental Assessment for Navy Anti-Air Warfare,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8400/6b65f5cac14e71239fc5aa7e400444007036.pdf 

8. James J. Sylvester, Gerald C. Konstanzer, J. Ross Rottier, G. Daniel Dockery,
and John R. Rowland, “Aegis Anti-Air Warfare Tactical Decision Aids,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. http://www.jhuapl.edu/techdigest/TD/td2204/Sylvester.pdf

9. James J. Sylvester, Gerald C. Konstanzer, J. Ross Rottier, G. Daniel Dockery,
and John R. Rowland, “Aegis Anti-Air Warfare Tactical Decision Aids,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. http://www.jhuapl.edu/techdigest/TD/td2204/Sylvester.pdf

10. Rear Admiral John Wade and Lieutenant Timothy Baker, USN, “Red Sea Combat Generates High Velocity Learning,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, September 2017. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2017-09/red-sea-combat-generates-high-velocity-learning 

11. J. Ross Rottier, John R. Rowland, Gerald C. Konstanzer, Julius Goldhirsh,
and G. Daniel Dockery, “APL Environmental Assessment for Navy Anti-Air Warfare,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8400/6b65f5cac14e71239fc5aa7e400444007036.pdf 

12. OPNAV INSTRUCTION 3360.30D, “SHIP ANTISUBMARINE WARFARE READINESS AND EFFECTIVENESS MEASURING PROGRAM,” Chief of Naval Operations, January 23, 2018. https://doni.documentservices.dla.mil/Directives/03000%20Naval%20Operations%20and%20Readiness/03-300%20Warfare%20Techniques/3360.30D.pdf

Excerpts:

4. Objective. The objective of the SHAREM Program is to assess surface ship ASW readiness and effectiveness and recommend solutions for ASW warfighting gaps. This objective is met via the collection and analysis of sensor and environmental data in tactically relevant geographic operating areas.

a. SHAREM exercises will evaluate surface force ASW systems and tactics, techniques, and procedures in tactically-relevant environments. Evaluation of current and emerging threats and environments of national interest, as recommended by the fleet and force commanders and as directed by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Surface Warfare Division (OPNAV N96), will lead to development of tactically-focused exercise events and collection of tactically significant environmental data.

b. Environmental data will be collected in coordination with systems commands, naval laboratories, and Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command.

c. SHAREM-sponsored exercises, Submarine Command Course (SCC) mini-wars, and limited objective experiments provide the opportunity to collect and analyze data to assess the full scope of surface ship ASW operations through the detect-to-engage sequence. Exercises should be conducted on underwater tracking ranges or in environments that reflect areas of
operational interest.

See also: Naval Surface and Minewarfighting Development Center SNA National Symposium Edition Newsletter, January 2018. https://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/nsmwdc/Documents/SMWDC_January_2018_Newsletter.pdf

Excerpt:

“SHAREM has operated for 48 years and has transitioned from SWDG to SURFDEVRON, SURFDEVRON to STDG, and finally STDG to SMWDC, where it now resides. SHAREM is highly effective at informing future ship builds, releasing tactical memos (TACMEMOs) for future integration into tactics, techniques and procedures, and maintaining a database of all data collected.”

13. James J. Sylvester, Gerald C. Konstanzer, J. Ross Rottier, G. Daniel Dockery,
and John R. Rowland, “Aegis Anti-Air Warfare Tactical Decision Aids,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. http://www.jhuapl.edu/techdigest/TD/td2204/Sylvester.pdf

14. Vice Admiral Phillip Balisle, USN (ret.), “Fleet Review Panel of Surface Force Readiness,” February 26, 2010.  http://www.sailorbob.com/files/foia/FRP%20of%20Surface%20Force%20Readiness%20(Balisle%20Report).pdf

15. Captain Jim Kilby, USN, “Is Your SPY Radar Enhanced, Nominal, or Degraded?” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, January 2012. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2012-01/your-spy-radar-enhanced-nominal-or-degraded 

16. “Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Aerial Targets,” Defense Science Board, October 2005. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a441466.pdf

17. Presentation by Steve Berkel, AQM-37 Projection Coordinator, NAVAIR, 2004. https://www.google.com/search?q=STEVE+BERKEL+ppt+navair&oq=STEVE+BERKEL+ppt+navair+&aqs=chrome..69i57.4393j0j9&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

18.  “Orbital ATK Successfully Launches Two Coyote Targets for the U.S. Navy,” Businesswire.com, June 17, 2005. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150617005337/en/Orbital-ATK-Successfully-Launches-Coyote-Targets-U.S.

See also: 49th Annual Targets, UAVs, & Range Operations Symposium & Exhibition, 2011. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/1005858.pdf#page=142

19. Megan Eckstein, “Warfighting Development Centers, Better Virtual Tools Give Fleet Training a Boost,” U.S. Naval Institute News, February 23, 2017. https://news.usni.org/2017/02/23/fleet-training-getting-a-boost-through-better-lvc-tools-warfighting-development-centers

20. Presentation by John VanBrabant Manager, Aerial Targets Business Development Integrated Systems Western Region, Northrop Grumman Corporation, NDIA Targets 2006. https://ndiastorage.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/ndia/2006/targets/VanBrabant.pdf

21. Captain Pat Buckley Program Manager PMA-208, Aerial Target & Decoy Systems, October 10, 2008. https://ndiastorage.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/ndia/2008/targets/Friday/Buckley.pdf

22. Subsonic Aerial Target System (SSAT), Naval Air Systems Command. http://www.navair.navy.mil/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.displayPlatform&key=2F240C2D-621A-42B2-9186-20B3F2469236

For “workhorse” see: Captain Pat Buckley Program Manager PMA-208, Aerial Target & Decoy Systems, October 10, 2008. https://ndiastorage.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/ndia/2008/targets/Friday/Buckley.pdf

23. Presentation by Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) at West 2018 conference. https://www.westconference.org/West18/Custom/Handout/Speaker0_Session6209_1.pdf

SMWDC Quarterly, Volume 1, Issue, December 2016. https://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/nsmwdc/Documents/SMWDC_Newsletter_16DEC2016-DAPS.PDF

24. “The Navy’s New Aegis,” Semaphore, Sea Power Centre Australia, Issue 07, 2009. http://www.navy.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Semaphore_2009_7.pdf 

25. James J. Sylvester, Gerald C. Konstanzer, J. Ross Rottier, G. Daniel Dockery,
and John R. Rowland, “Aegis Anti-Air Warfare Tactical Decision Aids,” JHU APL Technical Digest, Volume 22, Number 4, 2001. http://www.jhuapl.edu/techdigest/TD/td2204/Sylvester.pdf

Excerpt: “The Aegis community had concluded that accurate combat system performance assessments were valuable to the Aegis warfighter in terms of ship stationing, adapting radar configuration appropriately to the environment, and maintaining awareness of self defense capabilities and limitations.”  

Featured Image: SPY radar array on Aegis-equipped DDG-175 escort ship “Miyoko” of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces via Marie’s Garden Blog.