Category Archives: Current Operations

On-going Naval Ops or Maritime Current Events

Announcing The Commodore John Barry Maritime Security Scholarship Contest

By Roger Misso


CIMSEC is proud to bring back our annual COMMODORE JOHN BARRY Maritime Security Scholarship Contest! This is your chance to write about maritime issues and earn money for college.

Here are the details:

-Topic: In 1,500 words or less, give your best answer to the following question:

“Why does the United States of America need a strong Navy?”

-Prizes: $500 for First Place; $250 for Second Place; $100 for Third Place

-Deadline: Submissions must be received by 11:59 PM on Saturday, 15 April 2017, sent to in .pdf or Word format.

-Applicants must be current high school students enrolled in the United States or U.S. territories. Submissions should include proof of student status (copy of student ID or transcript) along with the entrant’s full name and address.

-Judging: Submissions will be judged by a panel of experts from CIMSEC and the broader maritime community. The best essays will be those that combine critical thought, originality, and relevance to the topic.

-Notification: All entrants will receive a confirmation reply upon submission of their essay, within 24-48 hours (if you do not receive notification within that time, please contact the VP on Facebook or Twitter). All entrants will be notified of the results from our judges on or about 15 May 2017.

-Publication: With the consent of the authors, CIMSEC will publish the three winning essays, as well as any honorable mentions, in late May or early June 2017.

-Fine print: By sending your submission to, you are certifying that your essay is original and has not appeared in any form in any other venue. CIMSEC retains full ownership of your essay until winners are announced; at that time, ownership of essays that are not selected as winners will revert automatically to their authors.

Roger Misso is the Vice President of CIMSEC.

Featured Image: Pen and paper (A. Birkan ÇAĞHAN/Flickr)

PLA Air and Maritime Maneuvers Across the First Island Chain

By Ching Chang

Between late 2016 and early 2017, there were several People’s Liberation Army (PLA) air and maritime maneuvers penetrating the so-called First Island Chain, including a deployment of the only People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) aircraft carrier Liaoning battle group, for a routine exercise in the South China Sea. It went through the Miyako Strait between Miyako Island and Okinawa Island as well as the Bashi Channel, a part of the Luzon Strait between Taiwan and Philippines. All these maneuvers were perceived by strategic commentators and military observers as a milestone that can be signified in the efforts of the PLA’s force building.

Nonetheless, all the military maneuvers penetrating the First Island Chain during this period of time were not entirely revolutionary. Since early 2015, similar air maneuvers have been executed eight times. The Liaoning battle group only cruised through the waters on the east side of the First Island Chain, but no significant or even substantial drill was executed during this leg of maritime maneuvers. While these air and maritime maneuvers are intentionally showing off the PLA’s strength, these military deployments exposed many weaknesses strategically, operationally, and tactically.

First, it is debatable whether these maneuvers are really fulfilling the strategic blueprint of maritime dominance of various island chains as set forth by PLAN Admiral Liu Huaqing in 1982. Liu’s perspectives are widely addressed by many Western strategic thinkers, yet his argument had never been converted into any official PLAN doctrine. At least, the actual developments of PLAN deployments and operations are not consistent with Liu’s original concepts. We must consider whether the PLAN’s strategic planning is still directed and guided by Liu’s visions as presented in 1982. Otherwise, the blindness of self-fulfillment conviction can be a fatal factor in interpreting the PRC’s maritime or naval endeavors.

Second, penetrating the First Island Chain itself is not a strategic barrier but merely a psychological threshold. There are three factors in operational planning and execution: force, space, and timing. The essential strategic space is a geographical space which must be dominated or be occupied by the offensive forces as well as secured or controlled by the defensive side. The nature of the strategically essential space is quite dynamic. A perfect match of the three operational planning and execution factors may turn any geographical space into a strategically essential space at the right time for the right forces. It is meaningless for maritime forces to cruise in the waters that nobody would like to utilize and declare the dominance of these waters. 

On the other hand, cruising through several international waterways during peacetime does not prove the capacity of breaking wartime blockage since no other party had ever expressed objection to these legitimate maritime maneuvers. The fundamental question about these PLAN air and maritime maneuvers is how these maneuvers may imply potential wartime actions. The answer will be inconclusive since these maneuvers can be interpreted as everything but will not be firmly identified as anything. If dominating the waters around the East side of the First Island Chain failed to undermine potential adversaries’ maritime interests, then all the significance emphasized by various strategic commentators are in essence overstated. No matter how routine the People’s Liberation Army Navy and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force crossing the First Island Chain for air and maritime exercises may be, the strategic significance is relatively limited.

Third, unless all the island territories of the associated island chains can be well-controlled before executing any maneuvers, dispatching maritime forces and their airborne counterparts through the First Island Chain runs many risks during wartime periods. In fact, adopting the island chains as the relative geographical indexes may expose the strategic thinking as nothing but an extension of coastal defense. The core of maritime strategic thinking should be the command of the sea, including sea control and sea denial. The essence of maritime majesty is to compel adversaries to follow your will, not to control a space with no strategic value. As compared with Chinese global maritime activities, interests, and naval presence, the actual deployments of the PLAN fleet are already beyond those island chains. Without the dominance of the island chain land territories, the wartime operational sustainability beyond the island chains can be very questionable.

Fourth, many political commentators insisted these People’s Liberation Army exercises and military maneuvers penetrating the First Island Chain are about sending coercive signals to neighboring states, particularly, Taiwan, Japan, and the United States, about the Taiwan issue. The viewpoint can be another overstated bias. Given the three major channels of the PRC for declaring external policies associated with Taiwan, those spokesmen of the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and Taiwan Affairs Office had never taken the initiative to deliver any related intimidating statements during these military maneuvers. In contrast, as many media expressed such speculations, all the PRC mouthpieces, including these three formal spokesmen systems, denied any association between the situations in Taiwan and these military activities. Of course, we still need to scrutinize the realities with the People’s Republic of China’s official statements. Although the cross-strait relationship has significantly deteriorated after President Tsai’s inauguration, the likelihood of employing these military exercises to coerce the Republic of China is still reasonably slim.

Fifth, as reflected by these military maneuvers and exercise scenarios, many operational and tactical features are worthy of discussions. These air maneuvers not only put the focus on air battles but also emphasize the considerations of engaging with the surface combatants, either surface vessels or military sites on land. Attempts for combining different air platforms and integrating units from People’s Liberation Army Air Force and People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force (PLANAF) are obvious. Certain rules of engagement can be expected since a stable modus operandi is revealed by these maneuvers in different periods of time. The major task for the PLANAF is to practice engagement tactics for targeting surface vessels. Several PLAN surface vessels are concurrently directed as the counter forces for such exercises. Maritime patrol aircraft attend as the scouting platforms, and the airborne early warning and mission control platforms are effectively conducting their command and control functions for air combat and surface attack missions.

No indication of live fire exercise has  been seen with the air and maritime maneuvers across the First Island Chain conducted by PLAN surface vessels or their airborne counterparts so far, but it is only a matter of time. Also, very little evidence proves any significant electronic warfare drills having been executed during these maneuvers, though certain platforms may have the inherent capability for electronic warfare. There are flaws in the exercise plans as well. There are few indications for search-and-rescue arrangements or mechanisms or contingency measures for malfunctions or emergencies. Whether we need to praise the bravery of these PLA military professionals for long-range exercise without a bailout mechanism or speculate the reckless of the PLA operational staff is a topic for further observation.

Last but not least, nobody could ever properly describe the exact scenario for these air and maritime maneuvers until now. There is no clear PLA doctrinal norm to support these exercises with different combinations of platforms. The possible operational concepts reflected by these exercises are still yet arguable. Whether these military exercises may well support the possible political aim is still a myth to be further scrutinized. We fail to generalize any possible operational directive from the same well-known modus operandi for concluding possible rules of engagement since it is very hard to tell what should be the expected operational situations for employing these air or maritime maneuvers. After all, to firmly conclude any meaningful implication from events that only occurred less than ten times is indeed a challenge.

At most, we may successfully exclude some plausible speculations and groundless accusations with political smear intentions. To summarize a prompt judgment on these PLA maneuvers penetrating the First Island Chain recklessly, without military professionalism and political consciences, would be a sin of contributory negligence as we misperceive the potential challenge today and are forced to swallow the catastrophic failure in the future.

Dr. Ching Chang was a line officer in the Republic of China Navy for more than thirty years. As a visiting faculty member of the China Military Studies Masters Program at the National Defense University, ROC, he is recognized as a leading expert on the People’s Liberation Army with unique insights on its military thinkings. 

Featured Image: J-15 fighters launching off of PLAN carrier Liaoning (China Daily)

Thoughts on Grand Strategy

This article originally featured on The Navalist and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here

By LT Robert “Jake” Bebber USN and Professor Richard J. Harknett

The United States has been operating without a Grand Strategy for nearly 25 years. First, it was essentially on auto-pilot in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union (the grand strategic endstate of containment) and then post-9/11 it became tactically oriented in reacting to global terrorism. Over the past 16 years, a flux in the distribution of power internationally has begun as the United States has relied on coercive force in an attempt to manage terrorist capacity and its gap in power is not guaranteed to be sustained without a strategy to do so. Great powers rise and fall because, over time, they tend to choose policies which accelerate the balancing dynamic of other competing states. Today, while the United States remains the leading state in an imbalanced global system, traditional realist theory suggests that international systems tend toward balance and we should expect a turn to a multipolar world. The National Intelligence Council’s January 9th released quadrennial Global Trends Report suggests a similar conclusion.

This is not preordained, however, if U.S. policymakers were to return to leveraging true American strength. The United States is still a relatively young Great Power and can choose policies that can stretch its advantages. Thus, while actors will balance against it, the United States can remain preponderant for some period of time. This is because it enjoys its position as a foundational power, rather than a coercive power. The majority of the world benefits from the foundations that have been laid in the aftermath of the Second World War and, therefore, there is significant incentive to buy-in and work within the current American-led incentive structure–most states are rewarded by the imbalance and thus it is not the driving force that traditional analysis suggests. This gap in power is tolerable to a majority of state and non-state actors because it is leveragable by them.

However, perpetuating an imbalanced system where the U.S. remains the foundational power will not sit well with actors like China, Russia, Iran and a few other revisionist actors. Indeed they are all working hard to challenge the current system to make their own rules and pursue their own interests. 

Yet the incoming administration may have an opportunity to fundamentally reorient the pieces on the grand strategic chessboard, and perhaps retain a position of strength that has been ebbing over the past few years. It appears that the President and his team are open to a different view of Russia as a great power. They seem amenable to Mr. Putin’s realist view of the world, and his naked pursuit of Russian interests.

At the same time, Mr. Trump’s comments about Communist China, and his apparent willingness to rethink America’s “one-China” policy seem to indicate that on some instinctual level, Mr. Trump considers the PRC to be a greater threat than Russia. On that matter, he is probably correct. Russia is essentially a vulnerable great power heading in the wrong direction. Communist China, on the other hand, while facing its own internal inconsistencies, has the capacity to challenge the United States in terms of economic, military and political power.

Quite simply then, the new Administration may be in a position to reverse the realignment of the Nixon era (but in Nixonian fashion) and enter into a tacit alignment with Russia as a geopolitical balance against Communist China, thereby sustaining the imbalanced system. There are a number of reasons why this might be advantageous to both the United States and Russia, but we should acknowledge up front that it will not come without significant cost. And this is not the mere “reset” that was recently attempted. In geopolitical terms, this is effectively bringing Russia into the western orbit.

The core unknown is whether Russia can be a satisfied great power in an imbalanced system? The answer is possibly yes, if its status is based on seats at the table of global governance, it is convinced that it is not susceptible to outside aggression or collapse, and that its particular form of domestic governance can persist.

Russia is a weakening great power on its current course demographically and economically. A new relationship would have to emphasize that there is a fundamental benefit to Russia of leveraging U.S. foundational power, rather than risking the cost of opposing U.S. coercive power. Russia should understand that challenging that coercive power would lead to its swifter demise. It lost the first Cold War and the U.S. can actively isolate it again and turn the energy (oil price) weapon against it if the Russians want to challenge the U.S. This is not a containment for containment sake argument, but rather an invitation to Russia to become a western power coupled with a hard power argument of the consequences that would follow from not accepting the invitation. What needs to be made clear is that the Russian hope of undermining western institutional legitimacy will not be tolerated anymore, but that there is an alternative to competition. This is a “tough love” message, but one in which Mr. Trump and his Secretary of State designee Rex Tillerson may be uniquely qualified to deliver.

In order for this to happen, Mr. Trump will have to convince Mr. Putin that Russia has a “losing hand” as it were, and that Communist China is a greater long term threat to Russia than the United States or the west. Russia is currently under severe economic sanctions from the west due to its invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea, and while Mr. Putin remains popular for now, even he knows that the Russian people will not tolerate for long growing economic depravity. Mr. Trump can effectively say, “I can get you out of this mess.”

And indeed there is growing concern even within Russia of China’s overt interest in the sparsely populated, but resource rich Siberian expanse. The Russian people are intimately familiar with several thousand years of history, to include numerous invasions from the Asian steppe hordes. Of course in recent history, Communist China attacked the Soviet Union in 1969. Russia is beginning to note the frequency with which Communist China now talks of reclaiming the territory lost during its “Century of Humiliation” – much of that territory being taken by Imperial Russia. (This includes the city of Vladivostok which was ceded to Russia by Imperial China in 1858.)

Can a Trump Administration conduct a strategic realignment with Russia? While the West will be under pressure to “negotiate a deal” likely involving forswearing further NATO expansion or the integration of former Soviet states into the EU, it should resist this temptation. Remember, Russia has a losing hand in this relationship, and is contracting both demographically and economically. Rather, Mr. Trump has to convince Mr. Putin that any lifting of sanctions will be followed by American investment which would effectively “stop the bleeding” in Russia. However, there would be no rollback on NATO – the Baltics and Eastern Europe are not going to be discarded. One clear question is the motivations of Mr. Putin: does he want Russia to retain global recognition as a great power and will cut a deal to do so, or is he too much a product of his KGB legacy and sees the “West” as an unremitting enemy with which no deal is safe? He will recall promises of the 1990s that were not kept, so trust building will be essential. The choice of Mr. Tillerson as Secretary of State could be critical in establishing that trust. 

For the United States, bringing Russia into a Western orbit could provide significant advantages. First, it diverts the PRC’s attention back to its 2,600 mile long border with Russia. This will require the PRC to reconsider its reorganization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), perhaps away from building a power projection force back to a land-oriented border protection. And the PLA still relies largely upon Russian designed and supplied military equipment, which would hopefully be curtailed or stopped.

Second, it advances the goals of the United States relative to India and Vietnam, who also maintain a friendly relationship with Russia and heavily relies on Russia as a military supplier. India has historically been non-aligned, though friendly to the former Soviet Union/Russia. A rapprochement between the U.S. and Russia relieves a source of tension with Vietnam and India, and opens the door for an alignment between the world’s two most populous democracies and a former war enemy of China.

Third, it does permit the U.S. and Russia to resume and enhance counter-terrorism relationships. It may even open opportunities for the United States and Russia to conduct joint operations in the Middle East against ISIS. To be clear, Russian insistence that the Assad regime remain in power would have to be dropped. However, the U.S. and Russia can probably find a mutually acceptable third party to rule in Syria over time

As of yet, there is no evidence that the incoming Administration is thinking along these lines. It would require a deft bit of diplomacy and “deal making” to convince Russia to throw its lot in with the United States as opposed to remaining the junior partner to the PRC (whether or not Russia realizes it is the junior partner is an open question). However, the warm words exchanged between the incoming Trump team and the Kremlin may be an opportunity. How unsubstantiated reports of deeper campaign Trump-Kremlin ties will impact moving forward is unknown, but in a world in which perception is reality, a President Trump would now have to pursue such a realignment strategy more openly than Nixon did with China. If they could pull it off, future relations with Communist China could look very different than the current trajectory it is on right now.

To quote Star Trek VI, there is an old Vulcan proverb that “Only Nixon could go to China.” Well, perhaps “only Trump could go to Russia.” We shall see if he can seize this opportunity.

LT Robert “Jake” Bebber USN is a Cryptologic Warfare Officer assigned to the staff of U.S. Cyber Command. He holds a Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Central Florida and welcomes your comments at

Professor Richard J. Harknett is the former Scholar-in-Residence at U.S. Cyber Command and currently an inaugural Fulbright Scholar in Cyber studies at University of Oxford, United Kingdom. He can be reached at

The opinions expressed here do not reflect those of the Department of Defense or U.S. Cyber Command. The authors offer an academic-based explanation for possible policy change, rather than personal advocacy or rejection of any possible policies.

New Administration Week Concludes on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

Last week we featured short submissions that offered advice to the incoming administration on the U.S. Navy. Responses covered shipbuilding, foreign relations, applications of maritime power, and other issues. Read their responses below.

Mercy of the Dragon by Joshua A. Cranford

“Yet the United States heavily relies on China’s 95% dominance of the REE market for economic prosperity and to conduct global security and naval operations. If China decided tomorrow to embargo these elements how long would America continue to prosper and meet its operational needs?”

A Strong Navy for A Strong Nation by Bob Hein

“The U.S. Navy provides the maritime superiority required to keep the homeland safe, preserve global influence, deter aggression, and win the Nation’s wars. Ever since the Spartans and the Romans put to sea, nations have understood the two fundamental purposes of Navies: secure their borders and protect commerce.”

Bryan McGrath’s Handy Advice by Bryan McGrath

“The incoming administration must grasp two things about the U.S. Navy as it assumes power. The first is that the overarching purpose for the U.S. Navy is to guarantee global freedom of the seas.”

The Challenge: Rediscovering the Offense by Richard Mosier

“The current generation of naval officers has grown up in an environment in which the U.S. Navy has been focused on strike operations in a relatively benign, third-world threat environment. In that environment, the surface navy has focused overwhelmingly on fleet defense and net-centric operations, with little need to grapple with concepts for the offense against a maritime near-peer.”

The Swiss Army Navy of Security Policy by Dr. Sebastian Bruns

“The incoming administration needs to know that the U.S. Navy is a forward-deployable and ready tool of statecraft for the United States. It builds on a long tradition and utilizes the opportunities afforded by geography, the maritime domain, and international law to engage with allies, conduct naval diplomacy, deter crises, and provide options towards favorable outcomes in a conflict.”

An Open Letter to Our Negotiator-in-Chief: Fix Navy Acquisition by Travis Nicks

“Mr. President-Elect, be our champion and negotiate a better situation. Please sign a law, issue a contracting regulation, or create an executive order that ensures that when acquisition contracts are negotiated the government owns both the IP and the technical information—specifically technical drawings and specifications—associated with the complete system.”

Keep It Simple by Brody Blankenship

“The Navy is the foundation of America’s expeditionary capability, therefore it will continue to be an integral component of military force in any conflict. However, this amazing force has been mismanaged and deflated beyond optimal limits, leaving the incoming administration much to fix and a disproportionately small budget.”

Ensuring a Strong Navy for a Maritime Nation by The Navy League

“It is imperative that the United States maintain naval forces that can sustain our national commitment to global maritime security. The biggest impediment to maintaining that force is the lack of a fully funded shipbuilding program that produces the right quantity and quality of ships, with the right capabilities, for the right price.”

Enhance Maritime Presence in the Indian Ocean by Vivek Mishra

“The Indian Ocean together with the maritime area of the Asia-Pacific should be on the high priority list for the next Administration. The region has been witnessing a twin factor rise in its importance: the rise in trade transmission through the Indian Ocean has increased tremendously over the past decade, besides witnessing a dramatic ascendancy in strategic importance owing to vulnerabilities of geographic choke points and more importantly, an ever increasing Chinese presence.”

More Than Just a Tool of Policy by Anthony Orbanic

“Much like any service of the Armed Forces of the United States, the United States Navy is more than just a tool of power projection. It is a projection of our beliefs, our capabilities, and our resolve.”

Naval Priorities and Principles for the New Administration by Anonymous

“The Navy is a limited resource that is most effective when given clear policies and permissive rules of engagement (ROE) and when allowed to have a strong voice in the decisions and policies governing its deployment.”

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: (Oct. 14, 2016) The Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), steams in formation with ships from Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG 5) and the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) during Exercise Invincible Spirit (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Burke/Released)