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Sally DeBoer is the President of CIMSEC, and also serves as CIMSEC’s Book Review Coordinator. Contact her at President@cimsec.org.
Featured image: YOKOSUKA, Japan (March 3, 2011) Yeoman 2nd Class Michael Davila takes the Navy-wide first class petty officer advancement examination at the base enlisted club at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka. Sailors are given three hours to answer 200 questions that test their knowledge of their rating and basic military requirements. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Ryan Smith/Released)
On a recent Wednesday evening, fifteen midshipmen gathered in the company of a Maersk captain and a handful of Navy officers of all ranks. Their roles in the hierarchy seemed clear. However, over the course of two hours, dynamic exchanges about piracy, leadership at sea, and market efficiency had everyone on the edge of their seats. Conversation flowed freely between the experienced and the novice, and across a wide spectrum of professional interests. By the end of the night, what was left was simply a group of people eager to learn from one another. What happened? High velocity learning.
CNO ADM Richardson discusses his vision for a Navy that embraces High-Velocity Learning. Credit: Naval Post-Graduate School.
The Navy recently issued a Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority in which Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Richardson outlined an effort to “achieve high velocity learning at every level.” What does that mean? The concept of high velocity learning challenges us to reinvigorate a culture of assessment and strive to increase the speed of our learning cycle. This seems to have been confusing to many in the Fleet, especially for those of us many rungs down the ladder from the CNO. How can we implement his guidance?
Take Charge and Move Out
We think we have figured out one way to do it here at the United States Naval Academy. Taking into account the CNO’s call for seizing the initiative in achieving high velocity learning, we know that you don’t always have to wait for a program to be enacted and passed down to your command. You can execute immediately based on commander’s intent. In this case, we call it “Unplugged.”
Once a month for the past two years, a group of fifteen midshipmen, some junior officers, a few senior officers, a senior enlisted leader, a handful of civilians, and one discussion leader have piled into a living room for a conversation. Hosted at a senior officer’s home after hours, “Unplugged” is something different. It is a casual venue for focused dialogue and exchange of ideas. In the past two years, our discussion leaders have included an executive from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Mayor of Annapolis, a Maersk captain, submariners, and astronauts. “Unplugged” brings together people from different circles, with different levels of experience, and those who would not usually interact. The speakers are experts in their fields. Spots for participants are first-come, first-serve with no expectation of subject matter expertise. Officer and senior enlisted participants facilitate discussion of Fleet applications.
Making “Unplugged” Different
These key tenets of making conversation a success can be applied at any level and in any command that wants to engage its Sailors: dialogue, setting, and spectrum of experience. Midshipmen, more than many others, are afforded visits from former Presidents, Ambassadors, and senior executives. We crowd into Alumni Hall and, frankly, decide in the first five minutes of a presentation how much effort we will put into staying awake. What makes “Unplugged” special is the personal interaction. We listen to a speaker with years of expertise and then are asked, “What are you thinking?” It forces us to be inquisitive and thoughtful about the topic at hand. Participants leave with an opinion on the topic, a problem with which to grapple, and more questions than could be possibly answered in a two hour session. Processing new and challenging information while developing a questioning mindset are skills necessary for all future officers.
The atmosphere created by a home-cooked meal in a living room takes midshipmen and senior attendees alike out of the monotonous classroom or lecture setting. It makes the event informal; there is less of an expectation to be taught a subject and more of an inclination to engage in discussion. This setting is effective at the Academy because the home-cooked meal is so rare, but this could be implemented anywhere that takes the attendees out of their normal environment.
It is also invigorating to sit down next to a Navy commander and share ideas and excitement about the night’s topic. As the discussion leader wraps up his or her points to start the discussion, there are no fewer questions from the senior attendees than there are from the midshipmen. Because of the range of experience, input can come from every possible interest in the room. This dialogue gives the speaker, midshipmen, and senior attendees a chance to relate the topic to their operational area, and to express both praise and critical questions. Senior and junior officers at “Unplugged” use their experiences to invaluably relate the discussion topic to how we fight and operate in the Fleet.
This leads to more conversation, spreading from class, to company, to the Brigade. Those who are most engaged, most thoughtful, and most inquisitive are invited back to help lead the next conversation. Walking out of an “Unplugged” event, participants are buzzing with ideas. They are energized about their futures and are itching to continue the conversation. Participants all interact with people whom they thought were out of reach. But in these challenging conversations with senior level experts, their ideas and questions are entertained, explored, and given credence.
The “velocity” in High Velocity Learning implies both a speed and a direction. We incorporate not only an energizing discussion, but also seek an endstate. At USNA, our endstate is getting as many midshipmen involved as possible, building confidence in them to engage in these discussions, and encouraging the thoughtfulness to ask more challenging questions. After “Unplugged” with the ONR executive, we asked, “How does the Navy’s risk calculus affect its ability to innovate?” After the Mayor, we asked, “What can we learn from local leaders about how to manage a team?” After the Maersk captain, we asked, “How might we work better with our commercial shipping counterparts?” Every participant offers unique value to the discussion.
We have taken Big Navy’s objectives to heart and made them successful on a small scale. To us, high velocity learning means a problem solving mindset. It is the ability to frame the problem, evaluate what we do and do not know, and devise and act on a way forward. “Unplugged” is a forum through which we develop this method of learning. The goal is to continue the momentum of the conversation and spread the excitement about thinking, reading, and discussing relevant challenges to the Navy team. As midshipmen, we often do not have access to these conversations that are so critical to our future careers. It isn’t that we lack interest, but rather some discussions are not accessible to us or we don’t know where to look. “Unplugged” bridges this gap and gives midshipmen confidence and access to the dialogue.
Try it within your peer group. We guarantee you will walk away invigorated and ready to continue the conversation. This is high velocity learning.
Charlotte Asdal and Scotty Davids are both first-class midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy. Charlotte is studying Chinese and from Chester, NJ. Scotty is a mechanical engineering major from Boulder, CO.
Featured Image: Bangor, WA (May 20, 2014) – Adm. Harry Harris chats with USS Louisiana (SSBN 743) Gold Crew officers in the boat’s wardroom. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ahron Arendes/Released)
LT Daniel Hancock wrote an article in 2008 titled “The Navy’s Not Serious About Riverine Warfare.” The U.S. Navy had ample opportunity to prove him wrong, right up until 2012 when the Riverine Force was subsumed under the Mobile Expeditionary Security Force (MESF) to create the present-day Coastal Riverine Force (CRF). Four years later, an incident like Farsi Island was the inevitable outcome of this ill-conceived and poorly executed merger. Both Farsi Island and the infamous merger were the manifestations of a culture that has lost its warrior spirit and has adopted an attitude to “man the equipment” rather than “equip the man.”
In the Beginning, There Were Riverines
The Navy re-established a Riverine Force in 2006 to pick up the mission from the Marine Corps’ Small Craft Company, who in turn traced its lineage through the Special Boat Teams back to the Navy PBR squadrons of Vietnam. These predecessor units proved themselves well in combat, with Sailors like BMC James E. Williams and HM2 Juan Rubio exemplifying the warrior spirit of small combat units.
Combat experienced SEALs, SWCCs, EOD techs, and Marines who were intimately familiar with the requirements of close combat guided the SWOs who were tapped to command the 2006 re-establishment. Riverine training requirements were not only relevant, they were tough and they were enforced. Sailors attended a minimum of four months of training (1 month for Riverine Combat Skills plus 3 months of Riverine Craft Crewman, Riverine Security Team, or Riverine Unit Level Leaders) before being assigned to a detachment that stayed together through the training cycle.
That training cycle was intensely busy but it was focused, repeatable across the squadrons, and offered a predictable sequence of development. Months were dedicated to training boat crews to work together on their individual craft, then with a buddy boat, and finally as a multi-boat patrol. Tactics were matured from live fire training at a static range ashore through underway maneuver with blank cartridges, and culminated in numerous live fire underway exercises where crews were engaging targets within 50m of troops being extracted from shore. It was challenging, dangerous, and realistic.
A “moto video” illustrating the live fire culmination exercises required of every Riverine detachment prior to the 2012 merger. (RIVRON THREE)
While the tactics themselves were important, greater value came from the emphasis on teamwork and discipline mandated by operating under these legitimately dangerous conditions of simulated combat. There was no room, nor tolerance, for a coxswain who failed to follow the orders of the boat captain or patrol officer (USN Investigation into Farsi Island Incident, Para IV.H.59). Such strenuous demands developed a sense of professionalism, ownership, and esprit de corps in each Riverine squadron. E-4 and E-5 Sailors who would have been given the barest of responsibility elsewhere in the conventional Navy were accountable for the men, performance, and tactics of their craft. Instead of being a grey-hull navigator in charge of 5 quartermasters, Junior Officers were detachment OICs and AOICs with 30-50 men, $4 million worth of equipment, and enough firepower to make Chesty Puller blush. The professional growth spurred by these responsibilities cannot be understated.
Death by Merger
The merger of the Riverine community into the MESF was a fundamental mistake driven by budgetary, rather than operational, considerations. The MESF provided a needed service to the Navy, but did so with a vastly different culture that bore the traditional defensive and risk-averse hallmarks of Surface Warfare, Inc.
First, the decision to disperse riverine capability across multiple commands complicated the manning, training, and logistics requirements later cited as contributing factors to the Farsi Island incident. The realities of budget constraints are unavoidable, but a reduction from three RIVRONs to one squadron would have met similar force reduction goals while maintaining standards and capabilities. The Navy decided against recommendations to consolidate the force around Riverine Squadron THREE in Yorktown, VA where it could have taken advantage of more than $3 million of purpose-built facilities, easy access to the York and James river systems, as well as a wealth of training support spanning from Camp Lejeune, NC to Fort A.P. Hill, VA, and Fort Knox, KY.
AMW 23.1/23.2: Plan/conduct/direct: advance force operations for amphibious assault.
AMW 23.3/23.4: Plan/conduct/direct: direct action amphibious raids.
AMW 35.1/35.2: Plan/conduct/direct: limited objective night attacks.
INT 3.3: Conduct: clandestine surveillance and reconnaissance operations.
These warfare requirements defined the essence of the Riverine community. Their deletion is clearly indicative of a climate averse to combat missions, and an intention to relegate the CRF to the MESF-style defensive missions.
Finally, consider the following merger-era anecdotes illustrating the nature of the MESF community that assumed responsibility for Riverine operations:
May 2012: While discussing tactics, Riverine detachment leaders asked MESF personnel about the particular behavior of their 25ft escort craft while conducting live fire drills. The MESF personnel responded that they had never fired weapons off those boats, despite routinely deploying them to operational settings.
March 2013: During a company formation with personnel from a disestablished Riverine unit, the CO of the now-merged CRS tells them, “Stop looking for work. The Navy doesn’t need Riverines anymore.”
April 2013: The CORIVGRU ONE N7, a civilian with minimal expeditionary experience, instructs squadron training team members that the primary reason for using blank cartridges was to catch negligent discharges. He categorically dismisses points of opposition that blanks provided enhanced realism for the trainee (sound, flash, reloads, malfunctions, etc).
May 2013: CRS THREE (the parent unit of the captured RCBs) damaged a Riverine Patrol Boat (RPB) while returning from a static display in San Diego. The craft was damaged when personnel failed to lower its arches for overpass clearance. No personnel stationed in San Diego during this time were qualified on RPBs, but they chose to take it out despite objections of the qualified personnel in Yorktown.
April – December 2013: Three Sailors from CRS TWO commit suicide, with 14 more admitting suicide-related behavior. According to the Virginia Pilot’s review of the investigation, “Sailors told [investigators] the stresses of the merger were enormous, exacerbated by poor communication down the chain of command and junior sailors’ mistrust of their commanding officer.” The departed were all members of the pre-merger MESF unit and under unacceptable leadership.
April 2014: The CRF publishes a ROC&POE that misidentifies Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) as the non-existent ‘Joint Tactical Area Communication Systems’ and the Foreign Internal Defense (FID) mission as Fleet Intelligence Detachment. These typos illustrate a fundamental failure of CRF doctrine writers to understand the context in which their forces operate.
Don’t Just Man the Equipment, Equip the Man
The unwritten theme weaved through the post-incident investigation is that Sailors up and down the chain of command failed to take their mission seriously. They failed to train adequately before deployment. They failed to operate professionally in theater. In the face of the enemy, they failed to act.
These systemic failures and the willful neglect of higher echelons are indicative of a culture that sees program management and certification as ends to themselves, rather than the means by which we prepare for combat. This is a culture that raises personnel to be technicians and managers first, leaders second.
Indeed, the officer in this situation “lacked basic mentorship and development from his entire chain of command. Left to his own devices, he emulated the poor leadership traits he witnessed first-hand…” (Para VI.K.6). The Farsi Island incident and the case study of the Riverine-MESF merger must be wake-up calls to the surface community. It is not enough just to man the equipment. We must equip the men and women who lead our fleet.
These leaders must be raised from the beginning of their careers, whether enlisted or officer, and enough responsibility must be delegated down the chain of command to enable this development. A combat mindset requires time and hard work, not budgets. Cultivating that mindset will require generational change, and a fundamental pivot away from our business and technology-centered force to one that embraces the concept of Sailor as Warrior.
But there is hope. There are Officers and Sailors out there who harbor the warrior spirit, ones who can serve as the example for others. For instance, the anonymous “RCB 805 Gunner #2” was the sole member of the captured crews to receive praise for “activating an emergency beacon while kneeling, bound, and guarded at Iranian gunpoint, at risk to her own safety.” Of those involved in this incident, she alone is worthy of the title Riverine.
Alan Cummings is a 2007 graduate of Jacksonville University. He served previously as a surface warfare officer aboard a destroyer, embedded with a USMC infantry battalion, and as a Riverine Detachment OIC. The views expressed here are his own and in no way reflect the official position of the U.S. Navy.
Featured image: Patrol craft belonging to the USN CRF are held captive by Iran in 2016, one of which displays the blue flag of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps- Navy. (IRIB News Agency via AP)
The following article is adapted from part of the 2015 Kiel Conference proceedings.
By Dr. Sebastian Bruns
With the deteriorating relations between the West and Russia in the wake of Crimea’s annexation and the hybrid war in Eastern Ukraine since early 2014, the Baltic Sea is suddenly thrust back into the spotlight of naval planners, policy analysts, and students of strategic geography alike.1 This article lays out some principles of looking at the Baltic Sea through the lens of the German Navy, which – while busy conducting a host of maritime security operations (MSO) in such far-flung places as the Horn of Africa, the coast of Lebanon, and the Central Mediterranean for more than two decades – finds itself returning conceptually to one of its home waters. It was the Baltic Sea and related military contingencies that dominated Germany’s naval DNA during the Cold War. Operating in the Baltic Sea was a fundamental part of the German Bundesmarine (Federal German Navy) coming-of-age. In fact, some of the legacy platforms still operated by the German Navy stem from an era that was entirely focused on the shallow and confined waters between Jutland, Bornholm, and farther east.
Since 2014, Germany finds itself in need to return to the Baltic Sea operationally, conceptually, and strategically. However, with a smaller navy increasingly stretched for resources, manpower and vessels, Germany cannot afford the luxury of ignoring other maritime security focus areas of the world worthy of a more expeditionary navy. This spells hard choices for the German Navy and its political masters who have depleted many maritime resources while simultaneously expanding the naval operational portfolio. To underline the conceptual reorientation that this strategic challenge demands, this essay first sketches what characterizes this ‘third phase’ of the German Navy (the first phase being the coastal/escort West-German Navy period from 1956 to about 1990, the second phase the expeditionary period from 1990 to about 2014). Second, the piece will discuss a few of the current political dynamics as they relate to naval and political relationships in the Baltic Sea in particular and the German Navy in general. Third, this essay addresses some of the fundamental naval-strategic shortcomings that put a coherent and believable strategic approach at risk. Fourth and finally, a handful of policy recommendations are provided.2
Three Phases of the Modern German Navy
To put the recent challenges to the German Navy into perspective, just as the service is celebrating its 60th anniversary, it is instructive to briefly touch upon some of the conceptual and intellectual frameworks that govern German maritime and naval strategy. Problems with periodization aside, it is helpful to frame the strategic evolution of the German Navy and how it is intellectually and conceptually approaching the return of the Baltic Sea as an area of responsibility.
In very broad terms, the ‘first phase’ of the modern German Navy – keeping in mind that the navies before 1945 officially hold no traditional value for the post-war service and are consequently not a point of departure 3 – ran from the inception of the Bundesmarine in 1956 to German reunification in 1990.4 After the devastation of World War II and the demise of the Third Reich, only ten years passed until Germany once again fielded a military. Before the German flag was hoisted again on a warship, a handful of predecessor organizations existed for tasks such as mine-clearing, intelligence gathering, and border patrol. When the Bundesmarine came into being, it was a product of the emerging Cold War and the bipolar world order. There was considerable Anglo-American support after 1945, both covertly and openly, for a new German maritime defense.5 In contrast to the grander aspirations of the decades before, the West German navy was limited to coastal defense (including mine warfare, submarine operations, and air defense) in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. From the outset and bound by constitutional and political imperatives, the German navy fashioned itself as a territorial defense and alliance force with strict limitations on where and how to operate. Its geographic restriction was eased in the 1970s when missions such as convoy protection in the North Atlantic emerged and more trust was bestowed by NATO allies on West Germany as well as the modernized equipment its navy fielded. From 1980, the Concept of Maritime Operations (CONMAROPS) integrated German posture in the Baltic Sea into the broader NATO-led maritime defense:
“CONMAROPS highlighted the importance of containing Soviet forces through forward operations, of conducting defense in depth, and of gaining and maintaining the initiative at sea. CONMAROPS was based first on deterrence. Should deterrence fail, the strategy was designed to mount a defense far forward in order to protect the territory of the alliance’s European member nations. The concept bracketed NATO’s naval operations into five operational areas or campaigns: the Mediterranean lifelines, the eastern Mediterranean, the Atlantic lifelines, the ‘shallow seas,’ and the Norwegian Sea.” (Børresen 2011: 99)
While increasing cooperation and temporary integration into the Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMG) became an integral part of the maritime mindset, Baltic contingencies still formed a key pillar of German strategic naval DNA. The fleet of diesel submarines, mine warfare ships, fast-patrol boats, anti-submarine and air warfare destroyers and frigates, as well as naval warplanes, reflected this.
The ‘second phase’ of the German Navy began with the transition from the Cold War posture and lasted for more or less a quarter of a century. The 1990-2014 timeframe was initially characterized by the absorption of the East-German Navy and a shrinking set of assets in the wake of a dramatically changing strategic environment. Real-world crises from 1990 onward mandated a transition of the German escort navy to a more expeditionary force (Chiari 2007: 139). Consequently, the German Navy was no longer confined to waters in its near abroad. Instead, it practiced more diverse, but nonetheless challenging operations in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf (Bruns 2016a: 285-287).
Politically, the Baltic Sea, once a contested and disputed area between the East and the West, became a true ‘NATO lake’ with the accession of former Warsaw Pact member states to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999 and 2004, respectively. To address maritime security and safety challenges, a set of governance regimes was installed, most notably the Maritime Surveillance network (MARSUR) for maritime situational awareness and Sea Surveillance for the Baltic Sea (SUCBAS). The military integration along the Baltic littoral was complemented politically and economically by the expansion of the European Union into Central and Eastern Europe in the early 2000s.6 In the absence of the very Cold War scenarios that the German Navy had practiced for until 1990, the Baltic Sea became little more than a ‘flooded meadow’7 – a site for training and testing, or a theatre of Partnership for Peace (PfP) initiatives with non-NATO members. The commercial use of the Baltic Sea rose significantly with an increase in maritime traffic (both cargo and passenger vessels) and a surge in exploitation of the maritime realm for energy purposes (such as offshore wind farms and gas pipelines), but that did not nearly require as much military attention on the part of Germany as it did in the years prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Coupled with the broadened mission set and the distance to the German Navy’s post-Cold War operating areas, this mindset fundamentally shaped how the institution and its people thought about and practiced maritime strategy as a whole. To them, it was something that was designed to address expeditionary challenges in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Africa, or in the Persian Gulf, and nothing that dealt with the ‘Fulda gap’ equivalent at sea near Fehmarn. The Cold War generation of naval leaders and a new generation of officers schooled at fighting pirates, upholding embargoes, providing humanitarian assistance, or patrolling the sea lines of communication existed in parallel for a period of time, often utilizing the very same platforms that were originally designed for fleet-on-fleet tasks envisioned for a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict. Whereas the warships and maritime patrol aircraft hardly changed, the German naval and maritime strategic horizon, and the public and political understanding of the role and value of the German Navy in the 21st century, did.
The ‘third phase’ began in the wake of Crimea’s annexation and the Ukraine quasi-civil war in 2014. Since Russia’s return to the world stage as a powerful actor willing to use military force rather indiscriminately for political ends, defying the Western model and conceptions about NATO-Russian partnerships, much has changed in threat perception. Spillover effects into the Baltic Sea include Russian harassment of the three Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) as well as Scandinavian allies, the reevaluation of all bilateral and multilateral political and economic relations with Russia, and a significant rearmament of the Kaliningrad exclave. Concurrently, the ever-smaller German Navy, challenged by an unsustainable force structure trajectory which has hampered modernization, readiness, recruitment, and operations, finds itself under significant strain.
The German Navy is not the only force which needs to refocus on the Baltic Sea, as Denmark and Sweden have also reduced many of their capabilities that they no longer regarded as necessary for their own maritime transitions since 1990. Still, the German Navy finds itself as the largest Western Navy in the Baltic Sea, despite the transfer of the naval bomber arm to the Luftwaffe in 1993 (and the loss of respective capability), the phasing out of the Bremen-class frigates since 2012, the scheduled decommissioning of the remaining fast-attack boats of the Gepard-class in 2016, and the shrinking of the submarine and mine countermeasures (MCM) force. At the same time, the German Navy is forced to refashion its contribution to German defense and national security. The upcoming White Book on German defense policy (the first since 2006), a new European Union global strategy due out this summer as well, and plans to update NATO’s Alliance Maritime Strategy (AMS) of 2011 are the push factors that frame how the Navy must articulate its missions. Keeping in mind that strategic cultural change is very hard, if not impossible, to mandate, there are two capstone documents being planned /written to complement and operationalize the White Book. First, a dedicated top-level service vision dubbed Dachdokument Marine,8 and second, a more focused naval operational strategy dubbed Militärische Seefahrtstrategie. The thrust of both documents is that the German Navy is no longer afforded the luxury of choosing their maritime focus areas. It must be both, a homeland and alliance defense force, as well as a capable integrated regional power projection navy.
Current Baltic Sea Maritime Challenges
Such a shift of attention and focus is challenging. Until recently, German politics has been very consumed by mass migration from Africa and the Middle East. In fact, not one, but two naval missions (one in the central Mediterranean and one in the Aegean Sea) with significant German Navy participation speak volume to the size of the problem perceived by Berlin – although these missions are hardly what navies are built and maintained for.9 Meanwhile, there is a larger sense in Berlin that the German Navy is overstretched and underfunded. Given its hollow force structure, the dire human resources situation in the wake of transforming the Bundeswehr into an all-volunteer force, and the strain of ever-longer deployments with increasingly overburdened warships, the need for improved strategic guidance and more resources for Berlin’s 911-force of choice is evident.
For the time being, such political challenges cloud the deteriorating relationship with Russia over the Baltic Sea. Russia’s intimidating actions are widely seen with a grain of salt within the security community, but the wider German public is hardly critical of the shift and fails to comprehend Moscow’s motives as well as the complexities of international politics. A case in point was the recent ‘buzzing’ of the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh-Burke-class destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) in international waters in the Baltic Sea. Susceptible to Russian and anti-American narratives, it was questioned why the U.S. Navy operated in the Baltic Sea in the first place.
German-Russian relations in the Baltic Sea realm are still fundamentally about economic ties, some with considerable personal investment of high-ranking policy-makers like former chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The Northstream pipeline, which transfers Russian gas to Germany on the seabed, might offer a point of departure to exert political leverage on Moscow, but it also raises fears of a tainted German-Russian deal over Central European countries’ national interests, as has happened in the past. For the German Navy, the Baltic Sea has lost little of its ‘flooded meadow’ characteristics, at least when it comes to potential naval missions in the area. Four of the five major German Navy installations (Eckernförde (class 212A submarine base), Kiel (home of Flotilla 1 and the Centre of Excellence for Operations in Confined and Shallow Waters), Neustadt/Holstein (damage control training facility), and Rostock (home of the naval command and home port to the largest German Navy surface combatants in the Baltic Sea) are located here, but conceptual and strategic innovation in terms of smart power beyond good order at sea remain scarce.
There are a number of areas where shortcomings are evident, and these need to be addressed now. While it would be easy to simply ask for more money to be poured into the Army and Luftwaffe-centric German defense budget, the more fundamental challenge is that of an intellectual kind. Little has changed from this 2013 assessment:
“The German Navy’s contributions to NATO’s maritime roles fall mainly within the lower end of the operational spectrum. Germany’s cruising navy provides little in the way of power projection but, for out-of-area operations, the fleet adds to alliance maritime security and cooperative security, and, though the sea-control capabilities resident in these platforms, it can contribute to collective defense.” (McGrath 2013: 6)
The question that begs an answer then is just what role sea power plays for the government in Berlin, and just how the German Navy can provide the necessary options to the political decision makers (including the respective price tags).
While Germany is lacking certain capabilities worthy of a medium-sized navy (such as the vaunted joint support ships capable of launching and supporting, amphibious operations from the sea), it is also lacking vocabulary for a more confrontational stance requiring hard-power capabilities on the one hand, and a clearer understanding of the roles and missions of naval forces on the other hand. One will be hard-pressed to find anyone in Berlin or Rostock who is war-gaming in earnest anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) scenarios in the Baltic Sea, or who is discussing with salience the naval side of deterrence and hybrid scenarios in the Mare Balticum. This is all the more discomforting because Germany has signed up to, but obviously not understood, NATO’s Alliance Maritime Strategy. This document from 2011 contains language that should inform partner nations’ naval outlook. The AMS mentions four areas for alliance naval activity: deterrence and defense, crisis and conflict prevention, partnership and cooperation, and maritime security. If one decides to focus on particular areas over others, such cherry-picking will amount in demonstrating a lack of coherence and conviction, which is both disastrous for the navy as a foreign policy tool, German standing, and for those Baltic Sea neighbors keen for alliance protection.
The challenge for any workable strategy is to prioritize. With finite resources, and certainly for a powerful country such as Germany, the task is to balance the force adequately so that it can do both. It needs to be able to conduct expeditionary operations under an international EU, UN, or NATO mandate together with other navies (think anti-piracy off the coast of Somalia or naval capacity-building such as in Lebanon), and also provide sustained territorial and alliance defense for and from the home waters. A flawed appreciation for strategy or an unwillingness to even think and act strategically is guaranteed to make such endeavors outright impossible. The objective is, to put it in the words of one analyst, “strategic flexibility and ambiguity of response” (Kofman 2016) against a changing strategic landscape in the Baltic Sea. The German government would be well-served to look into the NATO treaty, in particular Article 5, and make all efforts to provide adequate resources for its military to honor previous commitments. It would follow that the German Navy, which has all but lost its ability in many traditional naval mission areas such as anti-air warfare (AAW), antisubmarine warfare (ASW), and anti-surface warfare (ASuW), would require better intellectual and financial preparation.
Window of Opportunity: A Few Policy Recommendations
A popular saying notes that in the long-run, the pessimist may be proven right, but the optimist has the better time on the trip. In that spirit, there is a window of opportunity.
First, now is the time for a broader and more focused German maritime and German naval strategy. Self-evidently, these documents would need to carry the thrust of the government and in their scope and relevance not be limited to a particular service or department. They would also need to be deconflicted with the White Book and with relevant emerging EU and NATO strategies, while also honoring commitments from previous national and multinational capstone documents. Such a German naval strategy can focus on high-end design for its forces, extrapolated from its defined naval missions in support of Germany’s security and defense policy.
Second, it would embrace temporary integration with its allies beyond the Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMG) to finally provide teeth to the concept of shared and pooled resources. Third, low-end maritime security operations on the side would still be in the portfolio, but ships and aircraft would do these on the side, so to speak, rather than this being the chief strategic concern.
Fourth, it would address the intellectual gaps that have emerged in Germany on the role of naval forces as a foreign policy tool, speak on contemporary maritime scenarios such as hybrid or asymmetry, and provide a sense of direction for the navy. This would definitely strengthen the European pillar of NATO. A return to the ‘bracketing’ approach of CONMAROPS could serve to connect areas of alliance maritime interests. Fifth, it would give the service and its political masters the sense that the maritime challenges of the 21st century are not entirely new. In fact, such a capstone document could address some of the constants of naval issues and initiate a hard look at recent (Cold War) history to address the dynamics of a forward-operating focus, and the role of maritime power for Germany.
Sixth, a capstone document would give allies (and opponents) the opportunity to read about what Germany is up to in the maritime domain. It would sketch avenues to engage with the German Navy. This could mean more exercises, also in the Baltic Sea and beyond such established annual events as BALTOPS. Eventually, it would also provide a sense of direction for those countries in the Baltic who feel most threatened.
It should not come as a surprise that the Baltics are determined to defend against Russia, but they seek German leadership as a responsible lead nation in the Baltic Sea area. Germany should take this seriously.
Dr. Sebastian Bruns directs the Center for Maritime Strategy and Security at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK). He recently published the edited volume Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security (London 2016) together with Joachim Krause. Dr. Bruns, a former Congressional staffer in Washington, D.C., is also one of the project directors of the Kiel Conference on maritime security challenges, soon in its third iteration. This article is part of the 2015 Kiel Conference proceedings, available upon request by e-mail or online (www.ispk.org).
Børresen, Jacob (2011), Alliance Naval Strategies and Norway in the Final Years of the Cold War, Naval War College Review Vol. 64 (2), 97-115.
Breyer, Siegfried/Lapp, Peter Joachim (1985), Die Volksmarine der DDR: Entwicklung, Aufgaben, Ausrüstung, Bonn: Bernhard & Graefe.
Bruns, Sebastian (2016b), A Call for an EU Auxiliary Navy – under German Leadership, Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 1 March 2016, http://cimsec.org/a-call-for-an-eu-auxiliary-navy-under-german-leadership/22385 (18 May 2016).
Bruns, Sebastian (2016a), Elements of Twenty-First-Century German Naval Strategy, in: Joachim Krause/Sebastian Bruns (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security, London: Routledge, 283-295.
Bruns, Sebastian (2005), “The Role of the United States Navy in the Formation and Development of the Federal German Navy, 1945-1970”, Washington, D.C.: Naval History and Heritage Command, http://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/r/the-role-of-the-united-states-navy-in-the-formation-and-development-of-the-federal-german-navy-1945-1970.html (18 May 2016).
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1. A selection of further reading (of only the very recent analyses) includes Lucas, Edward (2015), “The Coming Storm. Baltic Sea Security Report”, Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), Washington, D.C.; Lundqvist, Stefan & Widen, JJ (2015), “The New US Maritime Strategy. Implications for the Baltic Sea”, The RUSI Journal, 160:6, pp. 42-48; Kramer, Franklin & Nordenman, Magnus (2016), “A Maritime Framework for the Baltic Sea Region”, Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Washington, D.C.
2. This chapter is based on a presentation given in Arlington (Virginia), United States, on 21 March 2016. The author wishes to acknowledge the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), sponsor and facilitator of that roundtable discussion, for its support.
3. See Douglas Peifer (2002) for an interpretation which pushes back against the perception that there were little continuities from the Kriegsmarine in the post-World War German navies. Quite the contrary was the case.
4. The East German Volksmarine (People’s Navy) was disestablished in 1990 with much of its materiel decommissioned/sold; the majority of its officers and enlisted personnel were laid off. The service thus remains but an episode in German naval history without much resonance in its post-1990 DNA and is therefore not subject to deeper consideration for this article. For (German-language) introductions to the Volksmarine, see Siegfried Breyer/Peter Joachim Lapp (1985) and Ingo Pfeiffer (2014).
5. See Bruns (2005) for an annotated bibliography of U.S. Navy influence on the development of the West-German navy for the 1945-1970 timeframe.
6. The EU has fielded its own Baltic Sea Strategy which focuses entirely on environment and good governance aspects.
7. The Baltic Sea is frequently referred to as little more than a flooded swamp, in particular by members of the German naval community. This affectional characterization is based in the shallow and confined hydrography of this particular body of water and the strategic geography it entails, making it a unique area for naval operations and the political use of sea power.
8. Full disclosure: This author has been part of the group that was tasked with conceptualizing and writing the drafts of that document.
9. For a pledge to consider establishing an auxiliary navy to address low-end maritime missions (a European Coast Guard by another name), see Sebastian Bruns (2016b).
Featured Image: Corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein ( F 264 ) in magnetic surveying at the Wilhelmshaven Wiesbaden Bridge (Ein Dahmer)