Category Archives: Current Operations

On-going Naval Ops or Maritime Current Events

Dangerous Waters: The Situation in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait

By James Pothecary

Introduction

On 25 October 2016, the Spanish-flagged merchant tanker Galicia Spirit came under fire when a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) was fired at it from a small speedboat that had interdicted the vessel. The tanker was then attacked with small arms fire. The merchant vessel escaped catastrophic damage, and was able to continue its journey onward. However, only two days later, the liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker Melati Satu was attacked in the same area, also with RPGs. The Tuvalu-flagged Melati Satu’s crew sent out a distress call, were rescued by a Saudi Arabian naval vessel, and were subsequently escorted to safety. Both ships had been traversing the Bab el-Mandeb strait between south-western Yemen and north-eastern Djibouti. This small waterway must be negotiated to access or egress the Egyptian-controlled Suez Canal, which sits at the northern end of the Red Sea.

In a related development, throughout October this year there were several attacks on U.S. warships in or near the Bab el-Mandeb from sites along the Yemeni coastline. The USS Mason and USS Ponce both came under attack by assailants of unconfirmed origin, forcing the warships to deploy anti-missile countermeasures and prompting U.S. forces to launch cruise missile strikes against targets in Yemen.

The Question of Responsibility

The most prominent non-state armed group (NSAG) operating in Yemeni territory contiguous to the Bab el-Mandeb is the Houthi rebel movement, which is opposed to the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur. It is not definitively known whether the speedboats that attacked merchant shipping were rebel forces or pirates. Furthermore, although the attacks on U.S. warships came from rebel-held territory and the U.S. responded by attacking rebel installations, Houthi officials denied involvement. However, Houthi forces had previously claimed responsibility for a 1 October 2016 missile attack on HSV-2 Swift, a United Arab Emirates (UAE)-flagged vessel, which was extensively damaged in the incident, and rendered inoperable. Due to the similarity of the tactics involved, as well as the fact these attacks occurred off the Yemeni coast, Allan & Associates (A2) assesses that Houthi forces were likely responsible for the attacks on vessels in the Bab el-Mandeb strait.

Footage of attack on HSV-2 Swift

Security Risks: The Threat to Shipping

The attackers’ identities are of secondary importance, however, compared to the risk that the attacks themselves represent. The implications of a declining security environment in the Bab el-Mandeb are substantial. The strait is one of a few strategic maritime choke points worldwide, a narrow but vital waterway that sea traffic must be able to navigate for maritime trade to function effectively. The Bab el-Mandeb is, at its narrowest point, only 29km across, and therefore even small craft launched from the Yemeni coast will be able to interdict all traffic passing through it. Almost all maritime trade between Europe and Asia, approximately USD700 billion annually, passes through this narrow waterway. Any security threats in this location would disproportionally affect global maritime trade routes and the security of sea lines of communication. As maritime shipping is approximately 90 percent of how the world’s goods are transported, interference at these choke points is a serious threat to international business.

thediplomat_2015-05-12_18-48-38
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait (Google Earth)

In April 2015, the United States Energy Information Administration estimated that 4.7 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum passed through the strait daily in the previous year. All traffic through the Suez Canal, the quickest route for European shipping to reach Asia, must pass through Bab el-Mandeb to reach the Gulf of Aden, and subsequently the Indian Ocean. In March of this year alone, 1,454,000 metric tons of shipping, carried on 80,495 vessels, transited the Suez Canal. A security threat in the Bab el-Mandeb, therefore, will have serious economic consequences for global trade, and could pose significant problems both for merchant fleets and for the companies that rely on their goods and commodities. Shipping lines must either re-route away from the Red Sea for Europe-Asia routes, or continue to use the strait at increased cost and risk. 

Business Risks: The Dilemma of Re-Routing

The quickest alternative route for European-Asian traffic, circumnavigating Africa via the Cape of Good Hope, would add at least 3,000 nautical miles to shipping. The additional time it will take to cover this route means vessels can fit in fewer trips, and therefore earn less revenue than they could otherwise in the one-year outlook. Although this cost is somewhat offset by the currently low price of crude oil, this still represents a substantial business risk to shipping companies, which could see their revenues and profits decline. Even with low oil prices, additional costs will have to be borne by maritime companies due to wage payments for at-sea staff, and increased distances will increase the amount of shipboard and dockyard maintenance required to keep vessels seaworthy.

However, even if merchant vessels brave the strait, they will still face substantial additional costs. These range from higher insurance premiums, to the cost of close-protection deployments on-board, and possibly additional payments to employees to compensate for the heightened levels of risk. Furthermore, if future attacks manage to cause substantial damage or loss of life on a civilian vessel, maritime logistics operators will be at risk of legal consequences on the grounds of failure to ensure adequate duty-of-care for their crews. Until the situation in the strait normalizes, merchant shipping must cover increased costs regardless of whether they choose to traverse the Bab el-Mandeb.

Ancillary Risks: The Limits of a Naval Response

The economic and security risks to shipping companies are compounded by the difficulty naval forces will have in neutralizing the threat in the Bab el-Mandeb. That said, major naval powers have seriously responded to the escalating threat in the strait. The U.S. Navy has already reinforced its presence in the surrounding area, and it is likely that the U.K. Maritime Component Command, which controls operations in Middle Eastern waters, will deploy additional assets to the region imminently.

The use of speedboats, which are quick, difficult to detect, and hard to interdict, presents challenges to even major naval powers operating in the region. Furthermore, the use of coastal sites to launch attacks on U.S. warships complicates military responses as the extremely poor security environment in southwest Yemen means that small teams could easily strike shipping and disappear before naval units can respond. 

If it is confirmed that Houthi rebel forces are behind the incidents, any concerted naval action in the area will face determined resistance. Unlike the Somali pirates of the late 2000s, Houthi fighters are ideologically motivated, trained, battle-hardened, and well-armed. Moreover, they have freedom of movement in areas of south-western Yemen under their control. While international naval power, supported by air power and special forces, will likely be able to contain the threat, full elimination of Houthi capability is an unrealistic objective without substantially more committed resourcing

Therefore, the difficulties of a naval response preclude an easy solution to the crisis and therefore increase the risk facing civilian merchant shipping operators. This is because it is unlikely a military solution will be sufficient in itself to quickly neutralize the attackers and restore security.

Security Recommendations for Merchant Shipping

A2 recommends that maritime logistics and security managers consider the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden a high-threat area until the situation stabilizes, and this should be immediately communicated to relevant bridge officers. Shipping that continues to ply this route in the interim should undertake mitigatory strategies.

This includes increasing ship speed, when possible traversing only during daylight hours, enhancing all watchkeeping procedures, and ensuring damage-control crews are kept on stand-by. Contact with international naval forces in the area should be maintained at all times. Maritime security officers should be considered while close to Yemeni waters. Security officers could be taken on-board at Egypt, Madagascar, the Maldives, or Oman depending on shipping route, to keep costs minimal. Maritime operators should also ensure ship crews are trained on actions to take in the event of coming under RPG or small-arms fire.

Mohamed Dahir/AFP/Getty Images
A militant stands by on a beach as a commercial vessel transits nearby. (Mohamed Dahir/AFP/Getty Images)

Slow vessels with low freeboards which lack the ability to evade potential attack should consider re-routing. This will include small pleasure craft as private individuals are very unlikely to have the training or resources to mitigate the potential threat. Due to the additional transportation time involved with this approach,render re-routing a last-resort measure, however.

A2 reminds managers considering deploying armed security personnel to obey all relevant national legislation pertaining to the ownership and use of weapons by civilians in order to avoid potential legal reprisals from national coastguard and law enforcement agencies.

Conclusion

The situation in the strait is likely to escalate, leaving both naval and civilian vessels at risk. The seriousness of this is compounded by the trouble naval forces will have in effectively responding to the asymmetric threat. Shipping companies therefore must make a cost-benefit analysis between continuing to use the strait or re-routing around the African coastline and consider the risks of each approach. A2 recommends maritime logistics entities consider the above security advice, and prepare for  further deterioration in the security environment of the Bab el-Mandeb. 

James Pothecary is a Political Risk Analyst specializing in the Middle East with Allan & Associates, an international security consultancy which provides a range of protective services including political and security risk assessments, security policy design and crisis management response.

Feature Image: HSV-2 Swift exhibiting damage after being struck by an anti-ship missile launched from the Yemeni coast. (PLG WAM)

October Recap

Announcements and Updates
Alternative Naval Force Structure Week Kicks Off on CIMSEC by Dmitry Filipoff
Alternative Naval Force Structure Week Concludes on CIMSEC by Dmitry Filipoff
Open Call for Articles: Navy Ratings, Phillipine Alliance, New Marine Corps Operating Concept by Dmitry Filipoff
September Recap by Dmitry Filipoff
CIMSEC DC October Meet-Up by Scott Cheney-Peters
Pledge to the CIMSEC Kickstarter by Roger Misso
CIMSEC & Atlantic Council Fiction Contest on Autonomy and Future War Kicks Off by Dmitry Filipoff

Alternative Naval Force Structure Topic Week
The Perils of Alternative Force Structure by Steve Wills
Unmanned-Centric Force Structure by Javier Gonzalez
Proposing A Modern High Speed Transport –  The Long Range Patrol Vessel by Tom Meyer

No Time To Spare: Drawing on History to Inspire Capability Innovation in Today’s Navy by Bob Hein
Enhancing Existing Force Structure by Optimizing Maritime Service Specialization by Eric Beaty
Augment Naval Force Structure By Upgunning The Coast Guard by Chuck Hill
A Fleet Plan for 2045: The Navy the U.S. Ought to be Building by Jan Musil
Closing Remarks on Changing Naval Force Structure by CAPT Wayne P. Hughes Jr., USN (Ret.)

Interviews
Commodore Dudley Wright Knox — Sailor, Writer, Sage by Christopher Nelson with Dr. David Kohnen

Members’ Roundup
Members’ Roundup: September 2016 by Sam Cohen

Naval Affairs
Naval Applications of Robotic Birds by Terence Bennett
Moving Forward: Evolution of the Maritime Operations Center by William Lawler and Jonathan Will
crossposted from MOC Warfighter
I held an Amazon “Flipped” Meeting at My Squadron and Here’s What Happened
by Jared Wilhelm

Autonomous Warfare: An Operational Concept to
Optimize Distributed Lethality
by Coleman Ward
Naval Strategy Returns to Lead the POM
by Steve Wills
An Interview with Vice Admiral Tom Rowden on the Future of the Surface Navy
by Dmitry Filipoff

Asia-Pacific
Countering Chinese Expansion Through Mass Enlightenment by James E. Fanell and Ryan D. Martinson
Indo-U.S. Logistics Agreement LEMOA: An Assessment by Gurpreet S. Khurana
crossposted from the National Maritime Foundation

Arctic
Future Roles for the Arctic Council by Ian Birdwell

Europe
Entering the Bear’s Lair: Russia’s A2/AD Bubble in the Baltic Sea by Bret Perry
crossposted from The National Interest
The Role of Cruisers in Promoting Russian Presence and Deterrence in Peacetime by Alexander Clarke

Middle East
U.S., Israel, and Sea Power in the East Med by Seth Cropsey

South America
The UNCLS Ruling and the Future of the Uruguayan Navy by W. Alejandro Sanchez

Fiction
Enemy Mine by Mark Sable
Fitness Function
by Mark Jacobsen

General National Security
The Problem of Mission Command by L. Burton Brender
crossposted from The Bridge

Featured Image: YOKOSUKA, Japan (Aug. 8, 2014) Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), arrives in Fleet Activities Yokosuka after a three-month patrol. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Liam Kennedy/Released)

Gauges for Inspecting U.S.-Philippine Relations

By Ching Chang

U.S.-Philippine relations have started to encounter significant challenges since the inauguration of President Rodrigo Duterte on June 30, 2016. President Duterte has made contentious statements which have been supported and accepted by the Philippine general public in spite of the controversial nature of his comments.

Given the historically long-lasting relationship between the United States of America and the Republic of the Philippines, both nations still maintain positive interactions. Regardless of its national strength, the Philippines has always been a significant supporter of the United States in the Western Pacific region and a strategic non-NATO ally. America retains a positive image in the Philippines, gaining wide approval from its citizens for its influence and policies in the region.

Given the conflicting situation between the positive perception of the U.S. of the general public and the negative criticism from President Duterte on U.S. policies, how should we make a fair assessment about the future of interactions between the White House and the Malacanang Palace throug the rest of Duterte’s presidency? The author would like to provide several reference gauges for inspecting U.S.-Philippines relations.

Security

First, security and military cooperation is undeniably a vital dimension of U.S.-Philippines relations. The Mutual Defense Treaty between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America signed on August 30, 1951 in Washington, D.C. is the solid foundation defining the alliance relationship between these two security partners. It was an elevation from the 1947 Military Bases Agreement. During the Cold War era, the United States maintained operations from the Clark Air Base until November 1991. On the other hand, the Subic Bay Naval Complex and several other relatively insignificant and subsidiary establishments in the Philippines remained operational until the effort of extension for another ten-year lease offer was rejected by the Philippine Senate on September 16, 1991. Eventually, U.S. forces withdrew from Subic Bay on November 24, 1992.

An aerial view of ships moored at the station. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) is in the foreground. (Vern Rowe)
An aerial view of ships moored at the station. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) is in the foreground. (Vern Rowe)

As the regional security situation gradually changed after the Cold War, the United States and the Philippines have regained momentum to enhance their security cooperation. The Visiting Forces Agreement was settled in February 1998 and subsequently led to the arrangement of the routine U.S.-Philippines joint military exercises names Balikatan, a Tagalog term meaning “shoulder-to-shoulder” as part of the War on Terror. Alternatively, the Philippines government also benefited from counterterrorism support against the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah groups in areas previously afflicted by insurgency movements such as Basilan and Jolo. Apart from the Visiting Force Agreement, another Mutual Logistics Support Agreement was also signed in November 2002. Finally, the Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation settled on April 28, 2014 symbolized the peak of  U.S.-Philippines security cooperation in recent years. This framework agreement indeed expanded the scope of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

Diplomacy

Therefore, we may identify the ceiling of U.S.-Philippines security cooperation for now as the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the floor being the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. The possibility of returning to the scale and degree of defense cooperation during the Cold War era as U.S. forces retain overseas bases in the Philippines is relatively slim. The maneuvering space for President Duterte to play political games is well defined unless he would like to have a structural change, which he already firmly denied. Comparatively, cancelling the joint exercise could be a good bargaining chip. Nonetheless, it has not undermined the overall structure yet. Furthermore, the diplomatic game will not be played by President Duterte alone. The future development of U.S. Asia policy after the new administration will be more influential to the U.S.-Philippines security relations. Nonetheless, the fundamental truth that we should bear in mind is that a single dimension does not speak for all.

Second, as we try to observe U.S.-Philippines relations, we must understand that these actors do not interact alone. There are other regional players who may also influence the overall strategic equation or security formula. The responses from these regional players should be a concern as we examine the interactions between the United States and the Republic of Philippines. As in aforementioned situations, there are various considerations within the foreign policy formulation process. Accommodating animosities or inconsistencies occurring from various dimensions of the interactions among states should be a matter of reality that all parties should accept.

Unity of opposites is a general practice of diplomacy nowadays in the East Asia. To assure their economic prosperity, every state would enhance their relationship with the People’s Republic of China. On the other hand, a certain level of concern in the security dimension would force all parties in the region to keep a positive relationship with the United States. As President Duterte emphasizes his desire to improve the relationship between Beijing and Manila, it might be necessary to surrender elements of the U.S.-Philippines relations as the price. Certain statements condemning Washington seem to be political maneuvers to please Beijing. Nonetheless, all these improvised grumbles are magnified by the press. Their importance was overstated since no structural change had been attempted yet.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) holds talks with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 20, 2016. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) holds talks with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 20, 2016. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)

Though unpleasant to Washington and to the alliance states in the region, the value of delivering formal responses to Duterte’s spontaneous statements does not exist. Most of the regional players may not enthusiastically react to Manila’s provocations unless certain substantial maneuvers may actually undermine the balance of power or the security structure. The interactions between the White House and the Malacanang Palace do matter to other regional players. Their responses are the vital references and the essential driving forces for managing U.S.-Philippines relations. Policymakers should expand their scope of consideration by observing other regional players and expanding their calculation beyond Manila and Washington.

Third, we must never forget that President Duterte is only the head of the administrative arm of the Philippine government. The administration is unquestionably playing the center role in the diplomacy. Nonetheless, other branches such as the legislative and judicial institutions of the Philippine government may also be influential to U.S.-Philippines relations. We should never forget that the attempt to extend the lease of Subic naval bases was blocked by the Philippine Senate in 1991.

Moreover, if President Duterte tries to retract from the present position of the Philippine government claiming the sovereign rights to those land features and maritime jurisdictions in the South China Sea, the possibility of facing an impeachment could not be totally excluded though these islands and reefs were never specified by the Philippines Constitution like the rest of its legal territories. These unconstitutional land features are so closely associated with national esteem now that no one would have the courage to point out the flaws of their own argument in the Philippines. So, checks and balances on the diplomacy should be another appropriate reference to consider the future of Duterte’s adventurism and opportunistic ambition.

Last but not least, most diplomatic plots are slow-cook stews, not fast food. Beijing’s reactions towards Duterte’s political maneuvers of rapprochements are very cautious. Civilizations with long memories will not forget the situation that occurred during the visit of President Benigno Aquino III to China in August 2011. Many agreements containing financial support and cooperation were signed and a joint communique confirming that those disputes in the South China Sea would be solved through consultations and negotiation was publicized. However, President Aquino broke his promise almost right after the visit and submitted the arbitration case eight months later.

All surprise maneuvers in diplomacy are not trustworthy. This is especially true when those involved have a conviction of dialectic principle known as “from change in quantity to change in quality” who will never trust any unexpected turn about. When comparing the long existing basis of the U.S.-Philippines relations, it is very hard to believe that the term of “separation” with the United States as President Duterte said in Beijing can be a meaningful long-term policy. Many political statements will be eventually proven to be void promises. Duterte’s diplomacy at the moment is matched with good timing. As the United States is at the peak of its presidential campaign, few would be distracted by Duterte embracing of Beijing. No decisive policy change toward the Philippines can be decided before at best next spring, when the national security team of the new U.S. administration attends its positions and forges the consensus. In other words, President Duterte would have several months to alleviate the uneasiness of the new U.S. leadership. The political calendars separately existing in Washington and Beijing should also be good references to scrutinize the future of U.S.-Philippines relations.

Conclusion

Although there are many transitional phenomena with the capacity to attract our attentions, the ultimate principles securing the basic structure of the alliance should never be neglected. These gauges would provide a better lens for us to observe future interactions between Manila and Washington.

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

Featured Image: President Duterte speaks during a visit at a military camp in the Philippines. (Francis R. Malasig /EPA/Newscom)

Advancing Information Warfare and Reforming Naval Intelligence

By Mark Munson

Earlier this year, Admiral John Richardson, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, released his Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, articulating a vision for how the Navy intends to both deter conflict and conduct “decisive combat operations to defeat any enemy.” Some of the factors it identifies as making the maritime system “more heavily used, more stressed, and more contested than ever before” include expanded trade, the impact of climate change opening sea lanes in the Arctic, increased undersea exploitation of the seabed, and illicit trafficking.

As U.S. Navy operations afloat take place within a more contested maritime system, the need for better “Battlespace Awareness,” one of the three “Fundamental Capabilities” identified in the Navy Strategy for Achieving Information Dominance, is clear. Battlespace Awareness requires a deep and substantive understanding of the maritime system as a whole, including tasks such as the “persistent surveillance of the maritime and information battlespace,” “an understanding of when, where, and how our adversaries operate,” and comprehension of the civil maritime environment.

The U.S. Navy operates across a spectrum ranging from simple presence operations, maritime security, strike warfare ashore in support of land forces, to potential high-end conflict at sea and even strategic nuclear strike from ballistic missile submarines. These operations do not occur in a vacuum, but in a highly complex and dynamic international environment that continues to require real expertise, particularly in its uniquely maritime aspects.

Chokepoints and popular world trading routes illustrate the complicated nature of the maritime domain. (Atlantic Council)
Chokepoints and popular world trading routes illustrate the complicated nature of the maritime domain. (Atlantic Council)

To execute these operations the U.S. Navy needs an intelligence arm employing experts that understand the details of the maritime system and how it can impact naval operations at sea. Three ways to move towards achieving real expertise in the maritime environment include:

  • Fielding better analytic tools and using advanced analytics to assist in collection, exploitation, and all-source fusion
  • Deploying intelligence analysts and tools to lower echelon units closer to the fight
  • Training intelligence personnel in vital skills such as foreign languages

Task 1: Improve Use of Advanced Analytics and Sophisticated Tools

The Design portrays a world in which rapid technological change and broadened access to computing power have narrowed the distance between the U.S. Navy and potential competitors. Wealthy states no longer have a built-in military advantage simply by having access to immense sums of money to invest in military platforms and weapons, including communications and information technology.

The Design notes that this advantage has been eroded as new technologies are “being adopted by society just as fast – people are using these new tools as quickly as they are introduced, and in new and novel ways.” Virtually anyone now has the ability to access and analyze information in ways that were previously only the preserve of the most advanced intelligence agencies. Indeed, today’s “information system is more pervasive, enabling an even greater multitude of connections between people and at a much lower cost of entry – literally an individual with a computer is a powerful actor in the system.”

This story of rapid technological change does not necessarily have to be one where the leader in a particular field inevitably loses ground to more nimble pursuers. The explosion of “Big Data” gives the U.S. Navy opportunities in which to better understand the maritime system, provide persistent surveillance of the maritime environment, and achieve what the Information Dominance Strategy describes as “penetrating knowledge of the capabilities and intent of our adversaries.”

In addition to an explosion of social media across the planet that provides readily exploitable data for analysis, the maritime environment has its own unique indicators and observables. One example of the ways publicly or commercially available data can be used to develop operationally relevant understanding of maritime phenomena was a 2013 study by C4DS that detailed how Russia has used commercial maritime entities to supply the Syrian government with weapons.

DigitalGlobe's Worldview-3 satellite was launched in 2014 and provides commercial imagery with a 31cm (12in) resolution. (DigitalGlobe)
DigitalGlobe’s Worldview-3 satellite was launched in 2014 and provides commercial imagery with a 31cm (12in) resolution. (DigitalGlobe)

Nation-states and their agencies no longer control the raw materials of intelligence by monopolizing capital-intensive signals intelligence (SIGINT) and imagery intelligence (IMINT) collection platforms or dissemination systems. Anyone can now access huge amounts of potentially informative data. The barrier to entry for analytic tools has drastically declined as well. An organization that can develop analytic tools to exploit the explosion of data could rival the impact that British and U.S. experts in Operations Analysis achieved during the Second World War by improving Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) efforts in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The navy that can successfully exploit the data environment and make it relevant to operations afloat will be better positioned to formulate responses to challenges fielded by potential adversaries often characterized by the now discouraged term “Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2AD).” With the barrier to entry for advanced analytics and use of statistical techniques so low, it would be criminal to not apply cutting edge methods to the various analytic problems faced by intelligence professionals.

Task 2: Employ Intelligence Tools at the Tactical Edge

For a variety of historical and technical reasons, all-source intelligence fusion for the U.S. Navy has generally taken place at the “force” or “operational” levels; typically by an afloat Carrier Strike Group (CSG), Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), or numbered Fleet staff, rather than with the forward-most tactical units. Since at least the Second World War, the U.S. Navy has emphasized the importance of deploying intelligence staff with operational commanders to ensure that intelligence meets that commander’s requirements, rather than relying on higher echelon or national-level intelligence activities to be responsive to operational or tactical requirements.

Advanced analytic programs, like Analyst Notebook shown in the screen shot above, can enable intelligence personnel at the tactical level to tailor analysis to their unit's requirements- as long as those programs are pushed down to them. (Image: Army-Technology.com)
Advanced analytic programs, like Analyst Notebook shown in the screen shot above, can enable intelligence personnel at the tactical level to tailor analysis to their unit’s requirements- as long as those programs are pushed down to them. (Image: Army-Technology.com)

Since the Cold War, technological limitations such as the large amounts of bandwidth required for satellite transmission of raw imagery had limited the dissemination of “national” intelligence to large force-level platforms and their counterparts ashore. The need to exploit organic intelligence collected by an embarked carrier air wing, coupled with the technological requirements for bandwidth and analytic computing power, made the carrier the obvious location to fuse nationally-collected and tactical intelligence into a form usable by the Carrier Strike Group and the focal point for deployed operational intelligence afloat.

With computing power no longer an obstacle, however, only manpower and the ability to wirelessly disseminate information prevents small surface combatants, submarines, aircraft, and expeditionary units from using all-source analysis tailored to their tactical commander’s needs. The Intelligence Carry-on Program (ICOP) provides one solution by equipping Independent Duty Intelligence Specialists onboard surface combatants like Aegis cruisers and destroyers (CG/DDGs) with intelligence tools approaching the capability of those available to their colleagues on the big decks.

The next step for Naval Intelligence in taking advantage of these new technologies is to determine whether it is best to train non-intelligence personnel already aboard tactical units to better perform intelligence tasks, or deploy more intelligence analysts to the tactical edge of the fleet. Additionally, Naval Intelligence must advocate for systems to ensure that vital information and intelligence can actually get to the fleet via communications paths that enable the transmission of nationally-derived products in the most austere of communications environments.

There is an additional benefit to pushing intelligence analysis down-echelon. The potential for an enemy to deny satellite communications means that the ability of a tactical-level commander to make informed decisions becomes even more important. The Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority argues that “one clear implication of the current environment is the need for the Navy to prepare for decentralized operations, guided by the commander’s intent.”

The F2T2EA targeting process is inextricably linked with intelligence functions for collection and assessment. (Image: NAVAIR)
The F2T2EA targeting process is inextricably linked with intelligence functions for collection and assessment. (Image: NAVAIR)

Five of the six steps of the “Kill Chain” or “Dynamic Targeting” process of Find, Fix, Track, Target, Engage, and Assess (F2T2EA) involve intelligence. These include tasks such as detecting and characterizing emerging targets (Find), identifying potential targets in time and space (Fix), observing and monitoring the target (Track), the decision to engage the target (Target), and assessment of the action against the target (Assess). Decentralized operations require the ability to apply more or all steps of the Kill Chain at the tactical edge meaning forward units need an organic intelligence capability.

Enabling tactical units to perform intelligence tasks essential to the Kill Chain at the tactical edge through trained manpower and better intelligence tools could greatly enhance the ability of afloat forces to operate in a what are sometimes described as Disrupted, Disconnected, Intermittent, and Limited bandwidth environments (D-DIL). Potential adversaries have developed a wide variety of capabilities in the information domain that would deny the U.S. military free access to wireless communications and information technology in order to “challenge and threaten the ability of U.S. and allied forces both to get to the fight and to fight effectively once there.” In a possible future war at sea where deployed combatants cannot rely on the ability to securely receive finished national- or theater-level intelligence, the ability to empower tactical-level intelligence analysts is a war-winning capability.

Task 3: Develop Widespread Language and Cultural Understandings

One of the Design’s four lines of effort is to “Achieve High Velocity Learning at Every Level” by applying “the best concepts, techniques, and technologies to accelerate learning as individuals, teams, and organization.” It also calls for a Navy that can “understand the lessons of history so as not to relearn them.” The irony here is that Naval Intelligence continues to ignore one of its most successful education efforts in history: the interwar program that detailed dozens of officers to study Japanese language and culture in Japan (with others studying Chinese and Russian in China and Eastern Europe) during the inter-war years.

LCDR Layton and LT Rochefort's intelligence efforts were so effective in determining the Japanese plans that on the day of the battle, Admiral Nimitz remarked "well, you were only five minutes, five degrees, and five miles out." (Image: 'Midway - Dauntless Victory' by Peter C Smith)
LCDR Layton and LT Rochefort’s intelligence efforts were so effective in determining the Japanese plans that on the day of the battle, Admiral Nimitz remarked “well, you were only five minutes, five degrees, and five miles out.” (Image: ‘Midway – Dauntless Victory’ by Peter C Smith)

Emphasizing the importance of language training and regional expertise would seem obvious goals for Naval Intelligence in light of the Information Dominance Strategy’s call for “penetrating knowledge” and deep understanding of potential adversaries. The direct result of sending men like Joe Rochefort and Eddie Layton to Japan to immerse themselves in that society was victory in the Central Pacific at Midway in June 1942.

While there are language training programs available to the U.S. Navy officer corps as a whole (such as the Olmsted Scholar program), they are not designed to provide relevant language or expertise of particular countries or regions for intelligence purposes. If Olmsted is the way which Navy Intelligence plans to bring deep language and regional expertise into the officer corps, it has done a poor job in terms of ensuring Intelligence Officers are competitive candidates as the annual NAVADMIN messages indicate that only eight have been accepted into the program since 2008.

There has been much debate in recent years, particularly heated in the various, military blogs, over the relative importance of engineering degrees versus liberal arts for U.S. Navy officers. What has been left out of that debate is the obvious benefit associated with non-technical education in foreign languages. A deep understanding of foreign languages and cultures is not just relevant to Naval Intelligence in a strictly SIGINT role. Having intelligence professionals fluent in the language of potential adversaries (and allies) allows deep understanding of foreign military doctrine and the cultural framework in which a foreign military operates.

Foreign language expertise for a naval officer is not a new concept. In the late nineteenth century prospective Royal Navy officers had to prove they could read and write French in order to achieve appointment as a cadet, and officers were encouraged to learn foreign languages. Interestingly, the U.S. Naval Academy does not require midshipmen majoring in in Engineering, Mathematics, or Science to take foreign language courses.

Conclusion

Naval Intelligence is vitally relevant to the U.S. Navy’s afloat operations, but can be significantly improved by taking advantage of the current technological revolutions in data and data exploitation. While the Design uses new terminology and does not address intelligence’s role specifically, the core missions and tasks of Naval Intelligence remain the same as they were in 1882 when Lieutenant Theodorus Mason started work at the newly established Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). Maritime experts can provide the decisive edge in combat operations through more advanced and sophisticated tools, by pushing intelligence expertise to the tactical edge to advise front-line commanders and mitigate new high-end threats, and by applying more detailed knowledge of the languages and cultures of potential adversaries in the most challenging environments.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a naval intelligence officer assigned to United States Africa Command. The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: 140717-N-TG831-028 WATERS TO THE WEST OF THE KOREAN PENINSULA (July 17, 2014) Operations Specialist 1st Class Brian Spear, from Senoia, Georgia, assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100), stands watch in the combat information center. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Declan Barnes/Released)