Category Archives: Current Operations

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A First Time for Everything: The United Nations Maritime Task Force in Lebanon

By David Van Dyk

There are instances of failure and success throughout the history of United Nations peacekeeping operations. The instances of the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda in 1994 and the UN Protection Force at Srebrenica in 1995 are difficult chapters in a complicated past. In contrast, the success of the UN in stabilizing East Timor in 1999 and early 2000 was realized by defeating pro-Indonesian militias and gaining the trust of the surrounding community fighting for independence. Additionally, the ongoing efforts of the United Nations in the Kashmir region (UNMOGIP) have been vital in keeping a volatile area from potentially exploding into nuclear war.

Another example of successful UN peacekeeping includes the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), forged from the fires of the 1978 war between Israel and PLO fighters operating from southern Lebanon. This UN mission was substantially enhanced in 2006 following a repeat of the conflict. It also included a historical development in UN peacekeeping, the establishment of the Maritime Task Force (MTF) attached to UNIFIL, the first such naval operation of its kind under the auspices of the United Nations.

Beginnings

Created in 2006, the MTF was designed to “support the Lebanese Navy in monitoring its territorial waters, secure the Lebanese coastline and prevent the unauthorized entry of arms or related materials by sea into Lebanon.”1 Additionally, the withdrawal of the Israeli blockade of Lebanon in September 2006 was brought about due to the existence of the MTF, assuaging Israeli fears of a rearmed Hezbollah due to unregulated sea traffic along the coast.2 The MTF gains its authority from UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701 ending hostilities between the Israeli military and Hezbollah elements; yet the MTF found its true birth in a request of then-Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to the UN Secretariat for a naval force to help Lebanon patrol its coastline and train the country’s underdeveloped navy.3 This allowed not only for the eventual withdrawal of the Israeli blockade but also for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to try something new – deploying blue helmets on the high seas.

Mission

Officially, as noted above, the task of the MTF is to help Lebanon secure its coastline and sea traffic while helping train the Lebanese Navy. Unofficially, the MTF has provided an opportunity to a handful of nations in helping train their navies as well. Indeed, a Belgium commander of an MTF flagship, BNS Leopold I, noted in an interview in 2009, “The crew underwent an intensive training package covering the full range of warfare drills applicable for the envisaged mission and with emphasis on boarding operations as well as underway and alongside force protection.” No doubt the MTF has provided countries with a chance to showcase their abilities in a combined task force; when Belgium took over command of the MTF in April 2009, RADM Thierry Pynoo commented, “It is evident that we are willing to fulfill our international responsibilities towards securing stability in this region. It also shows that Belgium is highly regarded by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, not in the least due to Belgium’s performances during former UN missions.”5

Yet the MTF is not all show and no action; far from it. Since operations began in 2006, the task force has hailed more than 90,000 ships and referred more than 12,000 to the Lebanese government for closer inspection.6 Additionally, the MTF as of 2018 conducted 713 training exercises with elements of the Lebanese Navy. These simulations cover a gamut of situations from boarding suspicious vessels to live-fire exercises. Furthermore, “these efforts are complemented with initiatives by other countries that provide capacity building and technical assistance, as well as radar and other naval materials on a bilateral basis.”7

A naval helicopter prepares to take off from the Brazilian frigate Uniao, flag ship of UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force, Sept. 25, 2013. (Photo by Pasqual Gorriz/UNIFIL)

Currently, a total of 15 countries have contributed resources to the MTF since 2006: Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey. The naval force is typically made up of 6-7 ships, with the flagship being Brazilian since 2011 when Brazil accepted command of the MTF from a rotating system of European countries. Brazil has been at the helm since, and has gained international attention for the country’s significant contributions and professional conduct in this operation.8

Brazilian Leadership

Since the decision to accept command of the MTF in 2011, Brazil has been recognized both by UNIFIL command and the international community. Major-General Michael Beary, having served from 2016 to 2018 as UNIFIL’s Head of Mission, commended the nation’s role in UNIFIL’s overall mission: “The sailors who patrol Lebanese waters under the flag of the UN are pathfinders [who have] developed a UN Doctrine on Maritime operations and proven to both the Security Council and the international community the benefits that the maritime domain can bring to peacekeeping operations. … I do not take this ongoing support for granted and I would like to thank both the Brazilian government and Navy for their continued commitment to UNIFIL.”9 Brazil has sought to position itself as a global player in international relations, emphasizing the rule of law and seeking diplomatic answers to international conflict. The foreign policy establishment in Brazil has pointed to the enduring interstate peace enjoyed in Latin America as proof of Brazil’s leadership in the region. Even with the escalating crisis in Venezuela, regional leaders have managed to hold at bay military interventions or saber-rattling, seeking humanitarian, diplomatic, or economic solutions.

In their leadership over the MTF, the Brazilian Navy has gained valuable training and insight from fellow countries, while sharing their own knowledge as well. This has contributed to a robust training program in Brazil, as crewmembers and ships rotate command on the MTF. As new crewmembers join the task force, the outgoing officers bring with them knowledge and abilities gained through their time on the MTF. These lessons are then implemented at Brazil’s dedicated program, the Brazilian Peacekeeping Operations Joint Center (CCOPAB). Even amid the relatively high costs and distant theatre of operations associated with UNIFIL MTF, scholar Adriana Erthal Abdenur, in International Peacekeeping, posited three main motivations for their continuing involvement: “projecting Brazil in international security; deepening bilateral relations with Lebanon; and naval capacity-building with a view to expanding Brazil’s role in the South Atlantic.”10 An early test for President Bolsanaro’s commitment to UN missions will center on his decision whether to continue his country’s leadership over the MTF.

A UNIFIL Indonesian helicopter on patrol flying over a Maritme Task Force frigate off the coast of Beirut. Lebanon, October 26th 2011. (Photo by Pasqual Gorriz/ UN photo)

Future Applications

With the documented successes of the UNIFIL MTF, the United Nations has been able to gain valuable insight into what it takes to operate and maintain a naval task force. Additionally, countries have shown a proven willingness to contribute to its budget and its fleet. While helping to secure peace on the Lebanese coastline, countries have been able to put navies to good use, gain international standing, and share best practices with partner alliances. While UNIFIL MTF will likely continue to operate well into the next few years, other maritime hotspots may also need to be addressed. A UN-led MTF becomes an attractive option when a targeted region is too tense for local actors or alliances to effectively manage certain security concerns.

As Jeremy Thompson points out in U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, the East China Sea has slowly but gradually deteriorated in stability; claims to the Senkaku Islands, currently administered by Japan, have been disputed by China and Taiwan.11 Maritime clashes involving fishing vessels and skirmishes between the three countries’ coast guards have been reported with increasing frequency.12 Diplomatic maneuvering over the islands has seen an uptick, especially with the outright purchase of the islands by the Japanese government in 2012. Oil exploration missions have often escalated to unhelpful saber-rattling, as seen in November 2004 when China sent a submarine near Japanese territory following a disagreement over an oil production platform operating in the East China Sea by Chinese oil companies. By January 2005, China had stationed two destroyers near the disputed area.13

China began its aggressive assertion over the islands when environmental reports conducted by the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East in the late 1960s suggested a significant amount of oil, natural gas and mineral resources could be discovered and exploited in the region. Additionally, the waters around the islands are fertile fishing grounds, capable of providing a serious boost to the vibrant and competitive fishing industries already operating in the region. However, due to the political and military insecurity in the area, a truly stable environment has not been maintained to make the most of the fishery.

While there is not yet cause for alarmism, the potential for the East China Sea to devolve into inter-state warfare is present. Unlike the undeveloped state of the Lebanese Navy, the fleets of China, Taiwan and Japan are among the most advanced in the world. As such, the region needs to be addressed in a constructive and neutral manner by the United Nations Security Council, with an eye toward instituting a framework for a peaceful resolution of the dispute. The UN Secretariat should consider drafting an outline for establishing a maritime task force to operate in the East China Sea, and one that may be constituted of extra-regional naval forces.

The serious legwork has already been completed, thanks to the efforts of the UNIFIL MTF; as then-UNIFIL Head of Mission Beary noted, the UN has already developed a naval doctrine; now, the international community must give the doctrine a chance to branch out and improve on the accomplishments found in Lebanon.

David Van Dyk is an associate editor with the Center for International Maritime Security and a doctoral student at the Helms School of Government studying Public Policy with a focus in foreign policy. He has received a Master of Arts in Public Policy with a focus in international affairs. He can be reached at dvandyk@liberty.edu.

References

1. https://unifil.unmissions.org/unifil-maritime-task-force

2. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/08/world/middleeast/09mideastcnd.html

3. Lebanese Republic, ‘Letter of Prime Minister Siniora to Secretary-General Kofi Annan’, Beirut, 6 Sept. 2006

4. “Interview with Cdr Jean-Marc Claus, Commanding Officer Bns ‘Leopold I’, Flagship of Com Unifil Mtf 448.” Naval Forces 30, no. 2 (April 2009): 108.

5. “Scoop for the Belgian Navy.” Naval Forces 30, no. 2 (April 2009): 106.

6. https://unifil.unmissions.org/unifil-maritime-task-force

7. “Rising Powers in Stormy Seas: Brazil and the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force.” International peacekeeping. 23, no. 3 (June 1, 2016): 389–415.

8. https://unifil.unmissions.org/major-general-beary-applauds-brazil’s-leadership-role-unifil’s-mtf

9. https://unifil.unmissions.org/new-brazilian-rear-admiral-helm-unifil-mtf

10. “Rising Powers in Stormy Seas: Brazil and the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force.” International peacekeeping. 23, no. 3 (June 1, 2016): 389–415.

11. Thompson, Jeremy. “Fly the U.N. Pennant Over East Asian Waters.” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 141, no. 9 (September 2015): 40–45.

12. https://intpolicydigest.org/2016/08/01/senkaku-islands-dispute/

13. https://www.offshore-technology.com/features/drillships-warships-increasing-tensions-east-china-sea/

Featured Image: UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander, Major General Michael Beary, addresses the audience at the event for International Day of Peace held at UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura, south Lebanon, Sept. 21, 2016. Photo by Pasqual Gorriz/UNIFIL

Asian Fishing Fleets Commit Yet Another Illegal Fishing Incident in Argentine Waters

The Southern Tide

Written by W. Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“My plain and simple message to our friends in the region is ‘the United States is a reliable and trustworthy security partner….Latin America and the Caribbean are not our backyard. It’s our shared neighborhood… And like the neighborhood … where I grew up, good neighbors respect each other’s sovereignty, treat each other as equal partners with respect, and commit to a strong neighborhood watch.”  Vice Admiral Craig Faller, USN,  before the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Sep. 25, 2018. 

By W. Alejandro Sanchez

The Argentine Coast Guard stopped a South Korean trawler that was allegedly operating without authorization in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in early February. The non-violent operation highlights how Asian fleets are willing to travel long distances in order to make a profit, and how Latin American navies and coast guards need to be more focused than ever before on combating unauthorized fishing.

The O Yang 77

The latest international fishing incident in Argentine waters occurred when the South Korean trawler O Yang 77 was detected by Argentine authorities, which deployed PNA Doctor Manuel Matilla (GC-24), a Mantilla-class patrol boat, to stop said vessel. According to Infobae, the vessel was detected around Chubut province, in the Southern part of Argentina, with its nets down. Aboard the vessel, Argentine authorities found some 130 tonnes of fish. A 11 February video posted on the Argentine coast guard’s Twitter account shows the  O Yang 77 docked in the South American country’s Comodoro  Rivadavia port.

South Korean authorities argue that the vessel, which belongs to Sajo Oyang Corporation, did not violate Argentina’s EEZ.

Illegal Fishing and Incidents

The aforementioned incident highlights one obvious fact: illegal, unauthorized and unregulated (IUU) fishing does not occur simply because Latin American and Caribbean fishing vessels break the law, but extra-regional vessels, particularly large fleets from Asian nations, are willing to travel long distances in order to make a profit and satisfy their nation’s demands.

Previous commentaries by the author noted the problem of IUU fishing in Latin America (see CIMSEC’s Latin American Navies Combat Illegal Fishing”), of which Chinese fleets are repeated offenders. For example, in 2016 the Argentine Coast Guard shot at and sank a Chinese fishing vessel, Lu Yan Yuan Yu, which was part of a larger fleet operating in Argentina’s EEZ. The following year, the Chinese vessel Fu Yuang Yu Leng 999 was spotted close to the Galapagos Islands and detained by Ecuadorian authorities. An inspection discovered over 300 tons of a variety of fishes, particularly hammerhead and silky sharks as well as other endangered species (see CIMSEC’s “A Growing Concern: Chinese Illegal Fishing in Latin America”). A year later, in late 2018, Peruvian authorities stopped the Chinese vessel Runda 608 for fishing without authorization in Peruvian waters.

Ironically, at the time of this writing, yet another incident regarding Asian fishing fleets occurred in the South Atlantic. In mid-February, the patrol boat Mantilla was once again called into action, this time to help the Zhongyuanyu 11, a Chinese fishing boat that collided with the Spanish fishing vessel Pesca Vaqueiro, some 16 km outside Argentina’s EEZ. The Argentine platform was deployed to rescue the crew of the sinking Chinese ship, while the Spanish vessel apparently did not suffer significant damage. These incidents highlight the constant presence of extra-regional fishing vessels in the South Atlantic.

How are Regional Governments and Navies Reacting?

Unsurprisingly, whenever a major illegal fishing incident occurs, there is an understandable public outcry and regional governments promise to protect a country’s maritime resources. For example, after the Lu Yan Yuan Yu incident in the Galapagos Islands, the Ecuadorian Navy deployed its submarine Huancavilca to help combat unauthorized fishing. Quito also reportedly sent a formal letter of protest to Chinese authorities about the incident, though it is unclear (and highly doubtful) if any measures have been implemented to avoid future violations of Ecuador’s maritime sovereignty by Chinese vessels.

Successfully and efficiently protecting an EEZ is not easy. Additional vessels for navies and coast guards would certainly be helpful and, to be fair, several Latin American nations continue to upgrade and expand their navies. For example Argentina has confirmed the purchase of four French offshore patrol vessels; Brazil has purchased a carrier (see CIMSEC’s “Atlantico: Brazil’s New Carrier”) and is constructing submarines; Mexico has constructed a long-rang patrol vessel and various OPVs; and Peru is constructing a second landing platform dock, BAP Paita.

However, it is also necessary to obtain aerial platforms that can help monitor and intercept suspicious vessels faster. Space programs can be additionally helpful to locate suspicious ships as well – the Chinese vessel Runda 608 was reportedly located via space-based capabilities. In other words, the answer is not just adding more ships to a fleet to successfully combat illegal fishing; aerial platforms and even space technology are also critically important.

Moreover, governments have a vital role to play. Robust legislation to combat IUU fishing is necessary, such as heavy fines or even prison time for offenders, but there also has to be action at the diplomatic level when illegal fishing is conducted across national borders. It will be important to monitor whether Buenos Aires confronts Seoul over the latest incident, though it is unlikely as Buenos Aires-Beijing relations remain the same after the Fu Yuang Yu Leng 999 incident.

As a corollary to this analysis there is an ironic detail worth highlighting: in late January the Argentine news service Ambito reported that South Korea is planning to donate an Ulsan-class frigate to Argentina. This report has been frequently cited in other media outlets. Such a move is not without precedent as Seoul donated a corvette to Peru a few years ago as well. It will be interesting to see if Seoul does in fact donate a warship to Buenos Aires, which would likely be utilized for patrol operations to crack down on maritime crimes in Argentina’s EEZ, such as illegal fishing.

Final Thoughts

The O Yang 77 incident will not be the last time that Asian fleets fish without authorization in Latin American waters as these vessels constantly operate in the South Atlantic – this is best demonstrated by the collision between the Zhongyuanyu 11 and the  Pesca Vaqueiro just days after the  arrest of the O Yang 77. Demographic growth, the eternal quest for profit, and depleting maritime life in other bodies of water mean that extra-regional fleets will travel great distances for new sources of fish. 

It is bad enough when illegal fishing occurs domestically (e.g. a Peruvian fishing vessel operating illegally in Peruvian waters) or across regional borders (e.g. a Ecuadorian vessel ilegally fishing in Peruvian waters). The scope of IUU fishing by Asian fishing fleets could help bring about the destruction of an already fragile Latin American maritime ecosystem.

Latin American navies and coast guards are the tip of the spear in combating IUU fishing, and they have a mighty opponent in front of them.

Wilder Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues. He tweets at @W_Alex_Sanchez.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Featured Image: Coast Guard patrol GC-24 Mantilla. (Mercopress)

The Bad Day Scenario Pt. 3: Developing a Dynamic, Distributed, and Lethal Global Force

By Jimmy Drennan

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” –Sun Tzu

Parts One and Two of the Bad Day Scenario series posited a worst case-style scenario for the U.S. Navy, discussed ways the Navy might respond with current capacity and capability, and introduced emerging concepts that could help the Navy address similar scenarios in the future as a more globally responsive force. Dynamic Force Employment (DFE), the U.S. military’s latest concept for employing the joint force with agility and unpredictability, will have a significant impact on how the Navy is used as an instrument of national power. Meanwhile, Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) is the Navy’s emergent concept for force development and maritime operations that will be capable of generating combat power across a broad range of platforms, domains, geographical area, and potential adversaries. The rest of the Bad Day Scenario series aims to reconcile the DFE and DMO concepts into an overall model for developing a dynamic, distributed, and lethal global force by 2020.

There currently exists no satisfactory integration of DFE and DMO. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson addresses both concepts independently in his Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0. Essentially, he suggests the Navy will use DFE at the lower end of the range of military operations, and DMO at the high end. Design 2.0 recognizes the unsustainability of business-as-usual global maritime operations, but fails to acknowledge that DFE and DMO will simultaneously impact steady state operations and must account for each other to be effective. They are not two conceptual “buttons” which the Navy can press depending on the situation.

Proposing a new concept – Global Force 2020 – can provide the necessary integration of DFE and DMO to enable the Navy to operate efficiently on a daily basis, while remaining postured to respond to global crises and contingencies. Global Force 2020 is based on a six-factor model – Operational, Technological, Human, Partnership, Cultural, and Logistical – that highlights the unique challenges and opportunities that arise from the integration of DFE and DMO. The first three factors will be discussed in this part, and the remaining three will be discussed in Part Four.

Operational Factor

Global Force 2020 will fundamentally change naval operations, along with tactics and training, in a variety of ways. Most notably, the model will necessarily reduce the primacy of the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) as the Navy balances a variety of force organizational constructs. Admiral Richardson seemed to acknowledge this shift when he said “our fundamental force element right now in many instances is the carrier strike group. We’re going to scale up so our fundamental force element for fighting is at the fleet level, and the strike groups plug into those numbered fleets. And they will be, the strike groups and the fleet together, will be operating in a distributed maritime operations way.”

Upscaling to the fleet as the basic fighting unit, however, could unintentionally hamper distributed execution by centralizing C2 at the three-star level, and would not incentivize the Navy to evolve its default CSG deployment model. Under Global Force 2020, existing constructs, such as Amphibious Readiness Groups (ARG) and Surface Action Groups (SAG), would see more emphasis, while emerging constructs, such as influence squadrons, war-at-sea flotillas, littoral combat groups, and unmanned or autonomous swarm formations, would be incorporated.

For decades, operations, tactics, and training in the surface force have focused too heavily on supporting the aircraft carrier. CSGs became the default force element. In the era of the Global War on Terror, carrier-based tactical air sorties became the naval force du jour for projecting American military might onto enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The Navy even re-designated Carrier Battle Groups to CSGs in 2004 to reflect the emphasis on power projection ashore. The demand signal from operational commanders ashore was so immense that the Navy deployed CSGs constantly to generate sorties in an almost industrial fashion. On a typical radar screen in the North Arabian Sea, ingressing and egressing carrier aircraft resembled widgets on a conveyor belt. To support this pace of sorties, nearly all surface combatant deployments were as part of CSGs.

Even before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Navy was already structured to operate with the CSG as its basic building block. The modern CSG was conceived of during the Cold War to defeat Russian battle groups in blue water, force-on-force, high end conflict. The concept hinged on the CSG’s ability to defend the aircraft carrier and preserve its ability to generate combat sorties. The Aegis Combat System was designed for this purpose, specifically targeting sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM). Eventually, “Aegis” became synonymous with “high end surface combatant.” Even the Command and Control (C2) concept, Composite Warfare Command (CWC), which was designed to enable CSGs to defend aircraft carriers against multi-domain threats, came to be applied almost universally in surface force operations.

CWC is based primarily upon two key principles: functional warfare commanders, and command-by-negation. Functional warfare commanders have command of the fighting function of CSG assets, not necessarily the assets themselves, within their individual warfare area or domain (i.e. Air and Missile Defense (AMD), surface warfare (SUW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW)). The warfare commanders are empowered to engage threats to the CSG without asking for permission. They are only required to notify the CSG Commander, who can then negate the order if he or she does not concur. This is the principle of command-by-negation.

Functionally arrayed warfare commanders and command-by-negation work well for the point defense of an aircraft carrier by her surrounding escorts. Multi-domain threats along multiple axes afford little reaction time, and decentralized C2 among concentrated forces offers the best chance for successful defense. As maritime operations become more distributed, however, the efficiency and efficacy of CWC diminish significantly. The individual ships of a CSG already operate disaggregated across entire theaters, well outside of organic weapons and high data-rate communications ranges. Ships can communicate via satellite relay but at a certain distance the ships will be part of different communication architectures which complicates tactical communication. Lower data-rate methods such as high frequency (HF) radio also do not support tactical communication. Functional warfare commanders cannot effectively defend assets when they cannot communicate rapidly, build shared awareness, or cover with their own armament. Global Force 2020 will not be able to rely on CWC as an effective method of tactical maritime C2. DFE and DMO are bringing about a sea change in naval C2 that will require commanders to operate effectively both independently, and as part of a larger networked force.

Future fights will require naval force elements to interface with joint and coalition constructs more frequently and more dynamically. Today, for example, a CSG or an ARG may be required to detach from a scheduled mission on short notice to join a Joint Task Force or multinational operation. In the future, this could become commonplace for ad hoc force elements to “plug in” to joint or international constructs. CWC, while highly effective for defending an aircraft carrier, does not translate well to the widely-used Prussian general staff structure, which is comprised of functional directorates (e.g. administration, intelligence, operations, logistics, plans, communications, etc.). The friction is evident even within Navy commands. Fleets are often broken into task forces, but task forces often employ CWC instead of further subdividing into task group and units. When a ship shifts from one task force to another, she sometimes retains her warfare commander duties to the former, creating a conflict for the fleet staff to manage.

Along with C2, the Navy must also adapt training to account for the reduced emphasis on CSG operations under Global Force 2020. Surface ships will no longer deploy with CSGs by default, and therefore will not be able to rely on a training curriculum tailor-made for CSG operations. Training should be geared toward each ship’s unique capabilities, not necessarily her expected role within a group, and should include practice integrating into joint and coalition force elements under a wide range of circumstances. Likewise, threat recognition and study of enemy tactics cannot be exclusive to a single geographic region. Ships may be asked to respond to any number of contingencies around the globe while potential adversaries are increasing their own out-of-area deployments.

Finally, an important element of Global Force 2020 operations will be deception. Inherent in the DFE concept is an element of unpredictability, which can be supported by military deception, both operational and tactical. As DFE seeks to keep potential adversaries on their heels by making the location and timing of naval deployments less routine, the Navy can further confuse their operational picture and frustrate efforts to understand U.S. intent through the use of information operations. Tactically, the Navy can employ Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare to make the enemy think the fleet is concentrated where it is not, and vice versa.

Technological Factor

A variety of emerging technologies, and some long-established but neglected by the U.S. Navy, now enable the U.S. to deliver decisive effects without the need for concentrating forces on the objective. Naval warfare has come a long way since the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942, the first naval engagement in which opposing warships did not sight each other. Today’s weapons, sensors, and communication systems enable friendly forces to coordinate fires outside visual range of each other and the enemy. In the future, some key technologies will enable naval forces to engage targets when not even in the same theater. Global Force 2020 will utilize long range hypersonic missiles and aircraft, next-generation cruise and ballistic missiles, next-generation unmanned systems, artificial intelligence, and cyber to name a few.

Much has been written on the advent of hypersonic weapons, airborne projectiles that travel faster than Mach 5. Some have even suggested a new hypersonic arms race is underway. On the other hand, some argue there is nothing transformational about these weapons, and they do not alter strategic fundamentals. This perspective fails to recognize the second and third order effects that the resultant force disposition and commander’s decision time will have on naval warfare. Hypersonic attacks, sometimes described as Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS), would be a core maritime mission instead of just a strategic one. Hypersonic manned or unmanned aircraft could also transform naval operations in unforeseen ways, but the Navy should exercise caution in investing too heavily in them, potentially sacrificing lower cost, higher quantity missiles for an exquisite technological solution just to fit the current operational paradigm of naval aviation.

Anti-ship missile technology has advanced in a number of ways aside from velocity. Since the U.S. Navy first fielded the Harpoon missile in 1977, technology for propulsion, maneuver, and homing have all revolutionized the way in which missiles can be employed against ships. Anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM), such as China’s DF-26 with a range of 3400 miles, pose a significant challenge to legacy fleet air defense systems. Modern anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), such as Russia’s 3M22 Zircon, can perform terminal maneuvers even at hypersonic speeds and employ stealth technologies to significantly reduce their radar signature. Meanwhile, terminal homing technology is constantly improved to counter defensive electronic warfare systems. Today, the U.S. Navy still only employs four to eight Harpoon missiles on its surface combatants. While lagging far behind other naval powers in anti-ship missiles, the U.S. is now making significant gains in terms of funding, acquisition, and research and development.

Apart from missiles, the railgun is a popular weapon often discussed as the future of naval gunnery. China purportedly fielded a prototype on one of its warships in 2017; however, the U.S. Navy recently admitted the weapon’s limitations and signaled its intent to pursue alternatives. With a theoretical range of over 100 nautical miles, the railgun certainly would have a place in Global Force 2020, but the verdict is still out on its viability in naval warfare. Interestingly, in 2018 the U.S. Navy did test fire hypervelocity projectiles, the railgun’s munition, from a conventional 5” deck gun.

Meanwhile, unmanned systems are proliferating rapidly and giving the world’s navies the operational reach that was once reserved for superpowers. Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) can provide surveillance, extending the over-the-horizon targeting range of individual combatants, and communication relays, allowing force elements to operate disaggregated without relying on satellite networks or more conventional communications, which may be denied in future conflicts. Future UAS will also conduct strike and aerial refueling missions. On the surface, the U.S. Navy is also pursuing Medium Diameter Unmanned Surface Vessels (MDUSV) to hunt mines and submarines, and to serve as a communications node to network a larger force. Similarly, unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) will become an integral part of advanced undersea warfare systems to detect, identify, and counter enemy ships and submarines.

Another emerging technology, artificial intelligence (AI), could make it possible for unmanned systems to operate autonomously when range or environment prohibit communication links for tactical control. Fielding autonomous weapons invokes substantial legal and ethical debate, but the technology can certainly benefit dynamic and distributed operations. Global Force 2020 will employ force elements comprising a mix of manned assets and autonomous systems. Beyond vehicles, AI will also be used in communication systems such as cognitive radio to dynamically access the electromagnetic spectrum and make it more difficult for adversaries to deny friendly use of the spectrum. In the cyber domain, payloads could be programmed with AI and deposited into enemy networks to conduct its mission autonomously without reach back.

A key aspect of cyber warfare as it relates to Global Force 2020 is that it permits engagement of the enemy irrespective of range. As long as friendly cyber forces can connect to adversary computer networks, cyber warfare can be conducted from anywhere in the world. By maintaining presence around the world, the Navy brings the capability of connecting to certain networks that would otherwise be inaccessible. A Littoral Combat Ship in the Caribbean Sea could connect to a local Wi-Fi network to deliver a cyber payload to an adversary’s power grid halfway around the world.

Human Factor

As technology inevitably increases in complexity and permeates every aspect of naval operations, the U.S. Navy will need to embrace the benefits of specialization in human capital management. In July 2018, Rear Admiral William Galinis, the Navy’s Program Executive Officer for Ships, remarked that the new Flight IIIs of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer (DDG-51) have been maxed out with technological capabilities. This critical loading of the ship’s combat systems happened gradually, as the Navy rolled out new DDG Flights and Aegis baselines to accommodate ever more lethal, and complex, warfighting technology. While the Navy appears aware of the effect of this technological evolution on its ships, it may have underestimated its effect on the officers who lead and manage them. Global Force 2020 will give rise to a new level of complexity in the warfighting capabilities that Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs) will be expected to employ, and missions they will be expected to execute. It is prudent to ask whether the surface force has maxed out the cognitive capacity of generalists, and whether it is time for SWOs to be trained as specialists to become experts in a single mission or warfare domain.

The idea of dividing officers into subspecialties, such as engineering, operations, and combat systems, is not new to the world’s navies. The British Navy, and many others, employ this model. The U.S. Navy, however, develops ship and submarine officers as generalists, for the most part. They are trained and educated in all aspects of naval affairs, serving in assignments that cover as many subject areas as possible. Usually, this means they are not afforded the time or resources to gain subject matter expertise in any one area. The phrase “an inch deep and a mile wide” is commonly used to describe SWOs. Naval aviators, however, are treated as specialists for the aircraft that they fly, since the technical and tactical differences can be significant. The U.S. Navy needs surface tactical action officers who are as proficient with their ship’s combat systems as an aviator is with his or her aircraft.

The U.S. House Armed Services Committee approved language in the draft 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that would have required surface warfare officers commissioned after 2021 to specialize into either an engineering, operations, or combat systems career path. Ultimately, this language was stricken from the approved NDAA, but not before sparking much debate among navy pundits. Opponents argued this was an overreaction to the USS McCain and Fitzgerald collisions, as indicated by Rep. Rob Wittman’s comments in January 2019, and that it would degrade the quality of command at sea in the U.S. Navy. On the other hand, proponents argue that the Navy’s current way of managing officer careers contributed to the 2017 tragedies and should embrace specialization as a potential solution.

In any case, specialization for officer career progression should be considered not only in response to preventable tragedies at sea, but also as a necessary adaptation to technological trends. In addition to proliferation and increasing complexity, modern technology has largely removed ship maneuvering from the kill chain. Naval officers have always needed to be proficient shiphandlers because a ship’s ability to deliver combat power depended heavily on maneuver, from ramming triremes to naval gunnery to submarine prosecution in multi-ship formations. Today, much of the naval kill chain resides far beyond the immediate space around the ship. Naval weapons such as missiles travel so far and so fast that ship speed and maneuvering have become almost irrelevant tactical factors. Cyber and electronic warfare also have almost nothing to do with maneuvering. It is true that attack and countermeasure effectiveness are affected by the physical, acoustic, and electromagnetic environment, but these can all be accounted for in tactical aids. Any moderately proficient mariner can take advice from tacticians to steer into the wind or minimize light and sound signature. The U.S. Navy already contracts substantial maintenance activities onboard deployed ships. Similarly, all Navies employ harbor pilots to guide them in and out of ports and certain chokepoints. The time may come when the surface force is compelled to consider contracting its maneuvering function, which will be increasingly irrelevant to combat, while SWOs specialize in areas that contribute directly to lethality.


Part Four will address the Partnership, Cultural, and Logistical factors of Global Force 2020.


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

Featured Image: U.S. Navy Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Chelsea Mortimer, center, from Kent, Washington, directs an F/A-18F Super Hornet, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 41, toward a steam-powered catapult on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in the Pacific Ocean, Feb. 8, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Skyler Okerman)

Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson Discuss China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations

By Dmitry Filipoff

On March 15th, the Naval Institute Press will publish China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations, a volume edited by professors Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson from the Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. CIMSEC recently reached out to Erickson and Martinson about their latest work.

Q: What was the genesis of your book?

Erickson: In the last decade or so, China has dramatically expanded its control and influence over strategically important parts of maritime East Asia. It has done so despite opposition from regional states, including the United States, and without firing a shot. Others have examined this topic, but we found that much of the public analysis and discussion was not grounded in solid mastery of the available Chinese sources—even though China tends to be much more transparent in Chinese. We also recognized a general lack of understanding about the two organizations on the front lines of Beijing’s seaward expansion: the China Coast Guard (CCG) and the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). This volume grew out of a conference we held in Newport in May 2017 to address some of these issues. It contains contributions from world-leading subject matter experts, with a wide range of commercial, technical, government, and scholarly experience and expertise. We’re honored to receive endorsements from top leaders in sea power, strategy, and policy: former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead, former Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf, Harvard Professor Stephen Rosen, former Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Fleet Commander-in-Chief Vice Admiral Yoji Koda, Dr. James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, and former Pentagon Director of Net Assessment Andrew Marshall.

Q: The title of your book is China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations. How does the term “gray zone” apply here?

Martinson: We usually prefer to use Chinese concepts when talking about Chinese behavior, and Chinese strategist do not generally use the term “gray zone.” But we think that the concept nicely captures the essence of the Chinese approach. We were inspired by the important work done by RAND analyst Michael Mazarr, who contributed a chapter to the volume. In his view, gray zone strategies have three primary characteristics. They seek to alter the status quo. They do so gradually. And they employ “unconventional” elements of state power. Today, a large proportion of Chinese-claimed maritime space is controlled or contested by other countries. This is the status quo that Beijing seeks to alter. Its campaign to assert control over these areas has progressed over a number of years. Clearly, then, Chinese leaders are in no rush to achieve their objectives. And while China’s Navy plays a very important role in this strategy, it is not the chief protagonist. 

Q: Who, then, are the chief actors?

Martinson: The CCG and the PAFMM perform the vast majority of Chinese maritime gray zone operations. Chinese strategists and spokespeople frame their actions as righteous efforts to protect China’s “maritime rights and interests.” The CCG uses law enforcement as a pretext for activities to assert Beijing’s prerogatives in disputed maritime space. PAFMM personnel are often disguised as civilian mariners, especially fishermen. Most do fish, at least some of the time. But they can be activated to conduct rights protection operations. And a new elite subcomponent is paid handsomely to engage in sovereignty promotion missions fulltime without fishing at all. Meanwhile, the PLA Navy also plays a role in disputed waters, serving what Chinese strategists call a “backstop” function. It discourages foreign countries from pushing back too forcefully and stands ready over the horizon to come to the aid of China’s gray zone forces should the situation escalate.

Q: Most readers will have heard about the China Coast Guard, but fewer may be familiar with the PAFMM. How is the PAFMM organized?

Erickson: The PAFMM is a state-organized, developed, and controlled force operating under a direct military chain of command. This component of China’s armed forces is locally supported, but answers to China’s centralized military bureaucracy, headed by Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping himself. While most retain day jobs, militiamen are organized into military units and receive military training, sometimes from China’s Navy. In recent years, there has been a push to professionalize the PAFMM. The Sansha City Maritime Militia, headquartered on Woody Island in the Paracels, is the model for a professional militia force. It is outfitted with seven dozen large new ships that resemble fishing trawlers but are actually purpose-built for gray zone operations. Lacking fishing responsibilities, personnel train for manifold peacetime and wartime contingencies, including with light arms, and deploy regularly to disputed South China Sea areas, even during fishing moratoriums.

Three types of maritime militia vessels depicted in the Office of Naval Intelligence’s China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), Coast Guard, and Government Maritime Forces 2018 Recognition and Identification Guide. (Office of Naval Intelligence)

There are no solid numbers publicly available on the size of China’s maritime militia, but it is clearly the world’s largest. In fact, it is virtually the only one charged with involvement in sovereignty disputes: only Vietnam, one of the very last countries politically and bureaucratically similar to China, is known to have a similar force with a similar mission. China’s maritime militia draws on the world’s largest fishing fleet, incorporating through formal registration a portion of its thousands of fishing vessels, and the thousands of people who work aboard them as well as in other marine industries. The PAFMM thus recruits from the world’s largest fishing industry. According to China’s 2016 Fisheries Yearbook, China’s fishing industry employs 20,169,600 workers, mostly in traditional fishing practices, industry processing, and coastal aquaculture. Those who actually fish “on the water” number 1,753,618. They operate 187,200 “marine fishing vessels.” An unknown portion of these are militia boats. To give a sense of the size and distribution of PAFMM forces, our volume includes figures showing the location of leading militia units in two major maritime provinces: Hainan and Zhejiang.

Q: How is the CCG organized for gray zone operations?

Martinson: When we held the conference in 2017, the CCG was in the midst of a major organizational reform. It was only set up in 2013, the result of a decision to combine four different maritime law enforcement agencies. Before 2013, most rights protection operations were conducted by two civilian agencies: China Marine Surveillance and Fisheries Law Enforcement. They did not cooperate well with each other. Moreover, neither had any real policing powers. After the CCG was created, it became clear that Beijing intended to transform it into a military organization. In early 2018, Beijing announced a decision to transfer the CCG from the State Oceanic Administration to the People’s Armed Police. At about the same time, the People’s Armed Police was placed under the control of the Central Military Commission. So, like the PAFMM, it is now a component of China’s armed forces. Moreover, CCG officers now have the authority to detain and charge foreign mariners for criminal offenses simply for being present in disputed areas of the East China Sea and South China Sea (although they have yet to use this authority in practice).

Q: How is the CCG equipped to assert China’s maritime claims?

Martinson: When Beijing’s gray zone campaign began in earnest in 2006, China’s maritime law enforcement forces were fairly weak. They owned few oceangoing cutters, and many of those that they did own were elderly vessels handed down from the PLA Navy or the country’s oceanographic research fleet. They were not purpose-built for “rights protection” missions. In recent years, however, Beijing has invested heavily in new platforms for the CCG. Today, China has by far the world’s largest coast guard, operating more maritime law enforcement vessels than the coast guards of all its regional neighbors combined. As the chapter by Joshua Hickey, Andrew Erickson, and Henry Holst points out, the CCG owns more than 220 ships over 500 tons, far surpassing Japan (with around 80 coast guard hulls over 500 tons), the United States (with around 50), and South Korea (with around 45). At over 10,000 tons full load, the CCG’s two Zhaotou-class patrol ships are the world’s largest coast guard vessels. The authors project that in 2020 China’s coast guard could have 260 ships capable of operating offshore (i.e., larger than 500 tons). Drawing from lessons learned while operating in disputed areas in the East and South China Seas, recent classes of Chinese coast guard vessels have seen major qualitative improvements. They are larger, faster, more maneuverable, and have enhanced firepower. Many CCG vessels are now armed with 30 mm and 76 mm cannons.

Q: It appears that these gray zone forces and operations are heavily focused on sovereignty disputes such as in the East and South China Seas. Are they also pursuing other goals and lines of effort?

Erickson: That is correct. The vast majority of maritime gray zone activities involve efforts to assert Chinese control and influence over disputed maritime space in what Chinese strategists term the “Near Seas.” When conducting rights protection operations, these forces help Beijing enforce its policies regarding which kinds of activities can and cannot take place in Chinese-claimed areas. The CCG and PAFMM intimidate and harass foreign civilians attempting to use the ocean for economic purposes, such as fishing and oil/gas development. Since at least 2011, for instance, China’s coast guard and militia forces have been charged with preventing Vietnam from developing offshore hydrocarbon reserves in its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), part of which overlaps with China’s sweeping nine-dash line claim. China’s gray zone forces also protect Chinese civilians operating “legally” in Chinese-claimed maritime space. The 2014 defense of Chinese drilling rig HYSY-981, discussed in detail in our volume, is a classic case of this type of gray zone operation. By controlling maritime space, China’s gray zone forces can also determine who can and cannot access disputed features. Since 2012, for instance, Chinese coast guard and militia forces have upheld Chinese control over Scarborough Reef. Today, Filipino fishermen can only operate there with China’s permission.

Q: What are some of the tactics employed by China’s gray zone forces?

Erickson: Most CCG cutters are unarmed, and PAFMM vessels are minimally armed at most. They assert Chinese prerogatives through employment of a range of nonlethal tactics. In many cases, Chinese gray zone ships are themselves the weapon: they bump, ram, and physically obstruct the moments of other vessels. They also employ powerful water cannons to damage sensitive equipment aboard foreign ships and flood their power plants. Foreign states are often helpless to respond because China has the region’s most powerful navy, which gives it escalation dominance.

Q: How have regional states reacted to Chinese maritime gray zone operations? Have some had more effective responses than others?

Martinson: Regional states have not presented China with a united front. They have each handled Chinese encroachments differently. China’s strongest neighboring sea power, Japan has taken the most vigorous actions. As Adam Liff outlines in his chapter, it has bolstered its naval and coast guard forces along its southern islands. It has also taken bold steps to publicize China’s gray zone actions. Vietnam has been a model of pushback against Beijing’s maritime expansion, as Bernard Moreland recounts in his chapter. But even its resistance has limits. In July 2017, Beijing likely used gray zone forces to compel Hanoi to cancel plans to develop oil and gas in its own EEZ, in cooperation with a Spanish company. Other states have taken a much more conciliatory approach to China’s incursions in the South China Sea. The Philippines, for example, is apparently acquiescing to Beijing’s desire to jointly develop disputed parts of the South China Sea—areas that a 2016 arbitration ruling clearly place under Philippine jurisdiction. Meanwhile, China continues to push Manila in other ways. Philippine supply shipments to Second Thomas Shoal are still subject to harassment. China has recently concentrated a fleet of gray zone forces just off the coast of Philippine-occupied Thitu Island, in an apparent effort to pressure Manila to discontinue long-planned repairs and updates to its facilities there.

Chinese fishing vessels massed off Philippine-occupied Thitu Island in January 2019. (CSIS/AMTI, DigitalGlobe)

At the same time, China itself continues to develop reclaimed land at Mischief Reef, a mostly submerged feature which because of its location clearly belongs to the Philippines. For its part, Malaysia has not publicly opposed Chinese incursions in its jurisdictional waters. But it is apparently proceeding with plans to develop seabed resources near the Chinese-claimed Luconia Shoals. Chinese coast guard vessels patrol the area, but have not forced a cessation of exploratory drilling operations—including those conducted by the Japanese-owned drilling rig Hakuryu 5 in February 2018. This story will be worth following, as Malaysia makes decisions about next steps. In 2016, Indonesia took robust actions to crack down on Chinese fishing activities near the southern part of the nine-dash line, northeast of its Natuna Islands. Things have been fairly quiet in the years since, perhaps because CCG vessels are escorting the fishing fleet to the area.

Q: It seems like China’s gray zone strategy is more often directed at other countries. Why is this topic important for U.S. national security?

Erickson: The U.S. Navy has also been targeted by China’s gray zone forces. U.S. Navy special mission ships such as the USNS Bowditch, USNS Impeccable, USNS Effective, USNS Victorious, and USNS Howard O. Lorenzen have been shadowed and harassed, victims of China’s erratically-enforced opposition to foreign naval activities within its claimed EEZ. To be sure, China’s gray zone campaign is largely targeted at other territorial claimants, but two of these countries—Japan and the Philippines—are U.S. allies. Washington’s robust alliance with Tokyo, in particular, is critical to American presence and peace preservation in a vital but vulnerable region. Chinese bullying behavior threatens to undermine these alliances and could trigger direct American military intervention if China’s gray zone operations were to escalate into armed attack. Moreover, as Jonathan Odom points out in his chapter, China’s activities violate important international conventions and norms. This means they are weakening key pillars of the international maritime order, and with it the global system on which peace and prosperity depend. In many cases China’s gray zone forces are used to assert maritime claims that have no basis in international law.

Q: And how can the U.S. Navy, as a more high-end force, better handle these sorts of Chinese paramilitary forces without risking escalation?

Martinson: If the United States wants to be effectual, it must do more to expose China’s gray zone activities, and it must accept a degree of risk in opposing them more strongly. China’s gray zone activities cannot be easily deterred, because each individual act is calculated to fall below American red lines. If Washington wants to get serious about countering China’s gray zone expansion, it must do more than conduct “presence” and “freedom of navigation” operations—which appear to sit at the heart of the current approach. The former cannot deter Beijing from taking tactical actions in the gray zone. The latter does little to defend the interests of allies and partners. In our concluding chapter, we suggest ways that the U.S. Navy can do more to help them protect their legitimate interests and defend the legal norms and conventions that China’s behavior threatens to erode. In short, the United States should be out there with them, operating on the front lines of China’s seaward expansion. To that end, it must develop a range of nonlethal tactics that it can use to achieve local effects without resorting to use of force.

Dr. Andrew S. Erickson is a Professor of Strategy in the China Maritime Studies Institute and the recipient of the inaugural Civilian Faculty Research Excellence Award at the Naval War College. He is an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2013, while deployed in the Pacific as a Regional Security Education Program scholar aboard USS Nimitz, he delivered twenty-five hours of presentations. Erickson is the author of Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development (Jamestown Foundation/Brookings Institution Press, 2013). He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University. Erickson blogs at www.andrewerickson.com.

Ryan D. Martinson is a researcher in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College. He holds a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a bachelor’s of science from Union College. Martinson has also studied at Fudan University, the Beijing Language and Culture University, and the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: A China Coast Guard ship uses a water cannon to harass a Vietnamese law enforcement vessel near the disputed Paracel Islands on May 27, 2014. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun)