Category Archives: Current Operations

On-going Naval Ops or Maritime Current Events

Support Our Diplomats

The events occurring throughout North Africa and elsewhere have sparked invective between many opposing sides on many issues. Any comment I could make on the strategic or policy implications of the tragic past 48 hours wouldn’t rise above the din of voices clamoring to control the narrative of the assaults on our embassies in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere. Public dignity should move us to memorialize those who have given their lives in the line of duty, and Rear Admiral Foggo does a better job than I could ever do over at the USNI Blog. If any immediate lesson should be drawn from our collective loss, it’s that we need to move beyond supporting the troops and re-think our approach to celebrating public service.

America has become used to supporting the military over this past decade of war. Many Americans quietly give time, money, and other services to support servicemembers who are wounded, in dire financial straits, or just because they wear the cloth of the nation. This is a good thing – it speaks to a culture of dignity, humility, and generosity that forms an important, but oft-ignored, part of American character.

But when I go to the movies and receive a military discount, or when I get head-of-the-line privileges in an airport security line, or when I’m in uniform and someone picks up a bar tab for me, I wonder why we don’t accord the same benefits to other public servants. Retired Army Colonel Paul Yingling expressed a similar thought in a Washginton Post op-ed late last year:

The iconic, life-preserving figures of the post-9/11 era — soldiers, police officers, firefighters — certainly deserve the adulation they receive. However, security is merely instrumental; peace and freedom make a good life possible but not inevitable. Especially in a democracy, we ought to respect most those who foster the character traits that make self-government attainable — parents and teachers, coaches and ministers, poets and protesters. When I hear the Army motto, “This We’ll Defend,” it’s them I have in mind.

Yes, supporting members of the armed forces is important. But there are many, many Americans in dangerous or difficult postings across the globe, and their lives are often a great risk. The Libya case proves this clearly. I’ve worked with many Foreign Service Officers during my career and greatly respect their professionalism as they fulfill important duties with little thanks. The most recent issue of Proceedings discusses ways that Foreign Service Officers and the Navy can work together more closely. Secretary Gates repeatedly made calls to increase State Department funding during his time in office. Diplomats make important sacrifices for the United States, so why is the military one of the few groups that recognizes this? I don’t think the public wants to ignore this kind of public service. Is it because that, unlike the armed forces, there are no political constituencies that support the State Department? Since they wear a coat and tie, is that why they’re unlikely to have a bar tab paid by a philanthropic stranger?

My message is simple: Support our Diplomats. The professionals in the foreign service components of the Departments of State, Agriculture, and Commerce routinely sacrifice – and too often make the ultimate sacrifice – to support our nation. Service is service. To citizens who value the armed forces: think about ways you can support other kinds of public service in your community and across the globe.

LT Kurt Albaugh, USN is President of the Center for International Maritime Security, a Surface Warfare Officer and Instructor in the U.S. Naval Academy’s English Department. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Italian Helicopter Takes Fire from Pirates

An Italian Navy Agusta Bell 212

It’s a reminder that the apparent shift in Africa’s piracy epicenter from to the Gulf of Guinea may be deceiving. Reuters and other new sources report that pirates aboard a ship held hostage fired on an Italian helicopter injuring the pilot. One of the shots sent a piece of canopy plexiglass shrapnel flying into the pilot’s neck. According to the sources he has since been able to call his family to reassure him of his condition.

The helicopter originated and returned to ITS San Giusto, a San Giorgio-class Dock Landing Ship (LPD) that serves as the flagship of EUNAVFOR’s counter-piracy mission, Operation Atalanta. San Giusto typically carriers Sea King SH-3D and Agusta Bell AB-212 helos. While the former has typically a greater range, the latter more often serves as a recon platform. The identity of the pirated vessel from which the gunfire originated is also unknown.

According to an EU spokeswoman, “the helicopter of San Giusto did not respond to the gunfire in order to not endanger the safety of any hostages onboard the vessel.”

While we have attempted to learn from the noticeable decline in piracy over the past half year, it’s a reminder to be mindful that such success could be reversed.

Operation Atalanta flaghship ITS San Giusto

Who Defeated the Somali Pirates?

Ships from CTF-150, one of the mult-national naval force conducting maritime security operations off the Horn of Africa

The New York Times published a piece last week describing the “sharp” decline in piracy off the coast of Somalia  It cited data provided by the US Navy demonstrating that attacks had significantly fallen off in 2012 compared to 2011 and 2010.  The decline was attributed to industry having implemented better security measures, the large-scale participation by forces from many world navies in counter-piracy operations in the region, and raids conducted to rescue hostages.

Conspicuously absent, however, is any mention of how events ashore may have impacted piracy.  The only mention in the piece as to how actions on land are related to piracy was that “renewed political turmoil” or “further economic collapse” could cause more Somalis to pursue piracy as a livelihood.

In June Matt Hipple made his case in this blog that international naval operations had little or nothing to do with the current decline in piracy.  He argued that the Kenyan invasion of Somalia and continued operations by the multi-national forces of AMISOM, as well as armed private security forces onboard commercial vessels were the decisive factors behind the recent drop in pirate attacks.  Another June piece by the website Somalia Report attributed the decline to internal Somali factors, primarily declining financial support by Somali investors in the pirate gangs, and increased operations of the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF).

A basic principle within the social sciences and statistics is that “correlation is not causation.”  Just because the U.S. and other world navies applied military force at sea to combat Somali pirates does not mean that maritime operations caused the piracy decline, particularly when there are so many other independent variables have contributed to piracy, especially those ashore driven by Somalis themselves.  Until this year the only group with real success at stopping piracy over the last decade was the Islamic Courts Union (forerunner to al-Shabab), who stopped it when they controlled southern Somalia for most of 2006.  Piracy came back when the Ethiopians invaded and forced the Islamic Courts Union out of Mogadishu and the pirate strongholds at the end of that year.

It is possible that a debate over who defeated the Somali pirates could mirror the similar debate over the effectiveness of “the Surge” in Iraq.  U.S. Army Colonel Gian Gentile has been one of the most outspoken advocates of questioning the conventional wisdom assuming that the 2007 U.S. troop increase in Iraq and the adoption of the Counter-Insurgency doctrine were what caused violence to fall.  He instead argues that Iraqi-driven variables such as Sunni insurgent groups accepting U.S. money to switch sides and Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr’s decision to stop attacks were what made the difference.

Both the deployment of ships and other assets by the world’s navies, as well as changed behavior by the maritime industry, have played some role in the drop in pirate attacks.  To assume that those were the decisive factor, however, with no consideration given to what has actually happened in Somalia over the past few years, is shortsighted and ignores the larger reasons for why the phenomenon of Somali piracy started in the first place.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence Officer and currently serves on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence and onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2). 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.

La Frigata USS Nicholas

 

U.S. officials offload drugs from USS Nicholas in July.

With the constant stream of news about maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific, the threats of piracy, and bluster of the Iranians, it can be easy to forget about the regular naval drama in the Western hemisphere. The U.S. Navy’s contributions to drug interdiction efforts don’t get a as much press, but they are a major focus of naval operations up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and in the waters of the Caribbean. Yesterday Spanish-language station Univision helped shed light on the mission and its impact thanks access it was given to USS Nicholas (FFG 47).

 

This is the report from Univision and the English-version clip:

It’s estimated that over 80 percent of the cocaine entering the United States is transported during part of its journey by sea. For that reason, the U.S. Coast Guard has moved the battlefield in the fight against drug trafficking to the oceans.

 

Univision’s Ricardo Arambarri got exclusive access on board the USS Nicholas during Operation Martillo, a 175-day-long mission patrolling the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic and Pacific coastal waters of South and Central America.

 

Arambarri and cameraman Herman Ulloa were on board for 10 days and witnessed the interception of a speed boat loaded with drugs. Operation Martillo returned to land on July 17th with four tons of cocaine and marihuana seized during the mission, with an estimated wholesale value of $93 million.”

This is some great footage, especially if you haven’t spent much time on a surface ship. It again highlights the benefits that mostly untrammeled access can achieve – namely helping generate an understanding of what it is the Navy does in the minds of the American (and international) public. Kudos to the PAOs and whoever else made the decision to give them the access.

According to WAVY 10, “Nicholas‘ crew seized a total of 16,000 pounds of cocaine and 500 pounds of marijuana during the deployment, worth more than $515 million…the crew also captured 14 suspected drug smugglers.”

Univision also provided some entertaining behind-the-scenes footage of the filming process:

 

This is also a reminder of how well the sea services can work together with practice. In addition to the Nicholas, a maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), an embarked SH-60B Seahawk helicopter, and a Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) of the U.S. Coast Guard along for the ride all make an appearance. It is sad, however, to see during the gun shoot and SCAT-team fire (yes, the military does love its acronyms, as the reporter kindly points out) that we still can no better than boxes for targets. They must have run through all their killer red tomatoes. But at least they have some non-combat expenditure allocation (NCEA) ammunition to shoot off, and at least the boxes look like they’re floating. While I’m all for going the inexpensive route, it was hard to tell how well a gunner was at hitting a target when the plywood from pallets we were using slipped below the waves after only a few rounds.

 

Another thing the videos reinforce is that speed is a big factor in ultimately catching the drug runners. But it’s the speed of the airborne assets that matter, not the surface vessel.

 

If you’re proficient with your Spanish, you can also check out the original Spanish-language production. As Univision notes, “Check out Navy officers speaking Spanish!

 

LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.