Category Archives: Interviews

Arctic Security and Legal Issues in the 21st Century: An Interview with CDR Sean Fahey

By Sally DeBoer

The changing Arctic is a topic of increasing interest to the maritime security community. Rapidly receding sea ice and increasingly navigable waters combined with the promise of rich natural resource deposits have made investment in the Arctic – particularly military and infrastructure investment – a priority for Arctic nations and other parties that stand to benefit from the region. To discuss these issues and more, CIMSEC interviewed Commander Sean Fahey, USCG of the U.S. Naval War College Stockton Center for the Study of International Law for his expert insight on legal and security issues in the High North in the 21st Century. 

SD: CDR Fahey, thank you so much for taking the time to discuss legal and security challenges to the Arctic in the 21st Century. We are honored to have someone with your experience and expertise speak with us! To begin, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

SF: Great to be with you; thank you for the invitation. I serve as the Associate Director for the Law of Maritime Operations at the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law, at the U.S. Naval War College. In this role, I conduct research and teach global maritime security law. In particular, I focus on the intersection of law and security in the Arctic Ocean. For example, I recently collaborated with Professor James Kraska on a position paper for the U.K. House of Commons Defence Sub-Committee, Defence in the Arctic Inquiry. I am also the Editor-in-Chief of International Law Studies, the Stockton Center’s peer-reviewed law journal, and the oldest journal of international law published in the United States.

By way of background, I am an attorney and commissioned officer in the rank of commander in the United States Coast Guard, and have advised various levels of command on the legal issues impacting maritime security operations, primarily counter-drug, fisheries enforcement, migrant interdiction and environmental law enforcement. I have also served as a Trial Attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice and as a legal advisor in the operational law division of USAFRICOM, where my focus was on maritime security operations, namely counter-piracy and maritime law enforcement support, and counter-terrorism.

SD: Can you characterize the United States’ current position in the Arctic? Is the U.S. prepared – materially and strategically – for challenges ahead in the Arctic?

SF: The United States is an Arctic nation, and the region is of significant strategic, economic and environmental importance to us. Some of the challenges we face in the region, for example, energy and mineral exploitation, are future challenges, but many, such as preserving freedom of navigation and overflight, are immediate. Climate change – whatever the cause – promises to be a major factor in how we prioritize our responses to those challenges, but it is not the only factor. Our strategy is influenced by the actions and priorities of the other Arctic nations as well, and in some areas the United States is not in the lead.

Strategically, we have comprehensive guidance on how to structure our approach to the region. American priorities are set forth in National Security Presidential Directive-66/Homeland Security Directive-25 and the “National Strategy for the Arctic Region,” and the accompanying Implementation Plan. Broadly, U.S. strategy is to advance U.S. security interests, pursue responsible Arctic stewardship, and strengthen international cooperation in the region. Each of those priorities has several detailed lines of effort. For example, the U.S. has four primary lines of effort to promote security: (1) preservation of freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the Arctic region; (2) enhancement of Arctic regional domain awareness and presence; (3) development of future U.S. energy security; and (4) evolve Arctic strategic capabilities, military force structure, and civilian infrastructure to be able to best respond to challenges unique to the region.

Many of the federal departments and agencies tasked with taking the lead on a particular line of effort within the national policy further refine the National strategy with additional guidance documents, among them the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Defense. So, in response to the second part of your question – is the United States prepared for future challenges in the Arctic? Strategically we are. We know the priorities and we know who is responsible for advancing them. Materially, however, the United States is not in the best position it could be to advance its strategic priorities. The most pressing example of this lacuna is the requirement for icebreakers.

One of two USCG Polar Icebreakers (Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst/Coast Guard)

Enhanced icebreaking capabilities are vital to properly support U.S. security interests in the Arctic. You cannot be present if you cannot get there. Virtual presence is actual absence. A persistent presence in the Arctic region is a condition precedent for the effective exercise of law enforcement jurisdiction and improved domain awareness. Currently, the U.S. has two icebreakers. The Russian Federation has 37. A fleet of at least six heavy icebreakers would provide one full-time U.S. presence within the Arctic Ocean in both the east and west, while also allowing enough hulls for training, work-ups, and post-deployment maintenance. This requirement is supported by the Pentagon, and is the single most important capability for the U.S. to pursue in the Arctic. Only a robust ice-breaking capability allows the U.S. to respond to all threats and all hazards in the region.

SD: The United States is in a time of flux, politically – how do you think a U.S. position that is perhaps less invested in preventing the effects of climate change might affect the security situation in the Arctic and the role of the U.S. as an Arctic leader?

We certainly are in a time of flux, but it is too early to say how the administration will address the challenges posed by climate change. Time will tell. That said, the data on the environmental changes occurring in the Arctic are alarming. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, which is directly supported by NASA and NOAA, the minimum Arctic sea ice extent has reduced by 40 percent since 1978. Last year the maximum (wintertime) sea ice extent was at a record low for a second year in a row. Additionally, NASA reports that global surface temperatures – to include in the Arctic – were at record highs in 2016. In short, the data indicate that the melt will not only continue, but will likely accelerate.

Trends in sea ice thickness/volume are another important indicator of Arctic climate change. While sea ice thickness observations are sparse, this figure utilizes the ocean and sea ice model, PIOMAS (Zhang and Rothrock, 2003), to visualize October sea ice thickness from 1979 to 2017. Sea ice less than 1.5 meters is masked out (black) to emphasize the loss of thicker, older ice. Updated through January 2017. (Zachary Michael Labe, Ph.D. Student, Department of Earth System Science, The University of California, Irvine)

Responsible regional stewardship – over the Arctic and its resources – is one of the pillars of our national strategy. It would be unfortunate if the United States were forced to effectively abdicate its leadership position in the Arctic due to a perceived lack of credibility on this issue by other Arctic nations. If we abdicate our leadership position, we abdicate our ability to shape regional security issues, and other Arctic nations may be reluctant to partner with us.

SD: Can you speak to some of the impacts that climate change has had on the Arctic security situation?

SF: The changing Arctic climate has already had a recognizable impact on the regional security landscape. Less ice means greater access and more activity. Some of the impacts may be positive. For example, the Arctic has enormous importance for long-term U.S. energy security. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves (90 billion barrels) are in the Arctic. This estimate is in addition to more than 240 billion barrels of petroleum reserves that have already been discovered. The USGS estimates that one-third of this oil is in the circum-Arctic region of Alaska and the Alaskan Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Responsibly and safely developing new domestic energy sources strengthens U.S. energy security by reducing U.S. reliance on imported oil, some of which, as you know, travels vast distances from extremely unstable regions before entering the national supply.

That said, competition for energy resources in disputed areas of the Arctic could destabilize the regional security balance. I am confident however, that the United States and the other Arctic nations will resolve their boundary disputes peacefully. We have seen evidence of this already with the Russian Federation and Norway resolving a long-standing maritime border dispute in the Barents Sea.

The more immediate impact of climate change on the Arctic security situation will be on freedom of navigation and overflight in the region. Broadly speaking, freedom of navigation and overflight are critical for the U.S. to be able to support peacetime and wartime contingencies across the globe. If the Arctic ice melt continues at its current pace, the Northwest Passage, the shipping route along the Canadian Arctic coastline, and the Northern Sea Route, the shipping route along the Russian Arctic coastline, will be accessible for longer periods of time, possibly year round.

Strategic mobility throughout the Arctic could become critical to support strategic sealift for U.S. contingency operations worldwide, and the Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route could serve as waterways to support such contingency operations. Portions of both shipping routes cross areas where the respective coastal state has made, in the opinion of the U.S., an excessive maritime claim, and these claims threaten the ability of naval forces to exercise their navigational and overflight rights. Preserving these rights is a central tenet of the National Arctic strategy. The U.S. Department of State, the lead agency for this strategic priority, is actively engaged with Canada and Russia on this issue, but it may be prudent for the United States to conduct freedom of navigation operations – the peaceful exercise of international legal rights in disputed sea areas – in areas of the Arctic Ocean that are subject to unlawful maritime claims.

SD: Many of our readers may not be aware of the pivotal role the U.S. and international Coast Guards have in maritime operations, specifically on operations in the high north. What improvements could the United States make to its infrastructure to be more prepared for operations in the Arctic?

At the risk of sounding redundant, I think greater icebreaking capability, and the shore-based infrastructure required to support icebreakers, is absolutely critical for the U.S. to achieve its maritime security goals in the Arctic. In order to respond to regional threats and hazards, U.S. surface forces need to be able to safely navigate the Arctic Ocean.

In the same vein, the U.S. should also commit to constructing ice-strengthened patrol ships for its seas services, similar to the Arctic Offshore Patrol ships being commissioned by the Royal Canadian Navy. The increased security presence in the region that greater icebreaking capability and ice-strengthened patrol ships would enable will help further deter conventional and unconventional maritime security threats and also ensure that U.S. near-shore and offshore oil and gas industry infrastructure is properly safeguarded. Search and rescue (SAR) also requires both ships and aircraft that are capable of operating in extreme climate. The United States has inadequate force structure to meet SAR contingencies.

Additionally, the U.S. needs to strengthen is pollution response capabilities and infrastructure in the Arctic. Needless to say, as the energy sector expands in the Arctic, so too does the risk of pollution. Given the remoteness of the region, sufficient pollution response capabilities and infrastructure need to be in place and accessible in order to ensure a timely response.

Finally, as the region becomes more accessible to year-round commercial navigation, the U.S. needs to ensure we have the sufficient infrastructure to support safe and secure maritime commerce. This could include harbor and dock improvements, aids to navigation, management systems for high risk vessel traffic areas,  search and rescue capabilities, and effective communications networks. Some of these are in place, some just need to be enhanced, and some need to be created.

SD: As you are a legal scholar, we’d like your insight on competing maritime claims in the region. First, what legal foundation, if any, does Canada have for its claim over the Northwest Passage? We know this is a controversial topic; what does the letter of the law dictate on the matter?

The Northwest Passage Route (Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.)

Canada asserts they have complete sovereignty over the waterways that comprise the Northwest Passage. Their legal argument for doing so is that the waters comprising the Northwest Passage lie within either Canadian internal waters or its territorial sea, and are thus subject to their jurisdiction and control. The United States and the European Commission have rejected Canada’s claims, and consider the Northwest Passage, a strait used for international navigation, open to navigation without coastal state interference.

Canada’s internal waters claim is predicated on straight baselines and the assertion of historic title to the waters of the Northwest Passage. Though the normal baseline used to measure the extent of a nation’s territorial sea is the low-water mark along their coast, UNCLOS does permit nations to draw “straight baselines” if certain criteria are met. Once a legal baseline has been drawn, waters seaward of the baseline, up to twelve nautical miles, are considered territorial sea; waters landward of the baseline are considered internal waters, subject to absolute coastal state sovereignty and jurisdiction. In short, Canada claims that, through its application of straight baselines, the entire waterway of the Northwest Passage became part of its territorial sea or internal waters, and is subject to its exclusive control. Remember though, that the Northwest Passage is some 100 nm wide in many areas, and Canada may not claim these areas as internal waters or territorial sea.

The U.S. position is that Canada’s application of straight baselines along the Northwest Passage is excessive and constitutes an unlawful interpretation of the criteria for establishing straight baselines under UNCLOS. Straight baselines may be used in the case of fringing islands or a coastline that is deeply indented and cut into. But even in these cases, the coastal state must draw the baselines narrowly. Under Article 8(2) of UNCLOS, even if countries accepted the limits of coastal state jurisdiction, then vessels from any nation would be completely free to traverse the area in innocent passage.

Consequently, even if nations accepted Canada’s straight baseline claims on their face, the ships of all nations would still be entitled to “innocent passage” through these “internal waters.” UNCLOS is clear on this issue; when the application of straight baselines have the effect of enclosing as internal waters areas which had not previously been considered as such – as is the case in with the Northwest Passage – the right of innocent passage still exists. Canada asserts that – the UNCLOS provisions about straight baseline enclosures notwithstanding – they have a historic claim to the Northwest Passage as well, one that precedes its straight baseline application. One of the weaknesses with that argument, however, is that a claim of historic title to internal waters requires, among other things, the acquiescence of foreign nations to that claim. The United States have never acquiesced to Canada’s claim, but have, instead, openly protested it, and continue to do so.

As you indicate though, it is a controversial matter, and much stronger legal scholars than I have written at length on the issue, but I think the position of the United States and European Commission is the legally correct one; the Northwest Passage is an international strait. Various legal characterizations aside, I am confident that the dispute over the Northwest Passage will be resolved amicably. Canada is a longstanding and indispensable ally of the United States – one that we have the deepest respect for – and an invaluable partner in the Arctic. The U.S. shares the same interests as the Canadians in ensuring a safe, secure, and environmentally protected Arctic, and many of the systems employed and contemplated by Canada to protect its interests – ship reporting, designating sea lines, vessel traffic separation schemes – do not require absolute sovereignty to affect. A diplomatic solution will be found.

SD: Can you provide some context for Russia’s extensive maritime claims? Can they reasonably expect a favorable ruling on their extension of their continental shelf?

The Russian Federation has several maritime claims of interest, particularly their claims regarding the Northern Sea Route and, as you note, their claim to an extended continental shelf. The Northern Sea Route claims need to be looked at closely from a maritime security perspective, as they have the potential to adversely impact maritime mobility.

As you know, the Russian Federation enacted national legislation establishing a state institution (the Northern Sea Route Administration or “NSRA”) with a mandate to “organize navigation in the water area of the Northern Sea Route.” This national legislation also defined “the water area” of the Northern Sea Route to include the Russian Arctic internal waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, and – notably – their exclusive economic zone. Shortly after its establishment, the NSRA published their “Rules of Navigation on the Water Area of the Northern Sea Route,” which contains several provisions that adversely impact freedom of navigation and may not be consistent with international law, chief among them the unilateral requirement that all ships must request advance permission from the NSRA to enter “the water area” of the Northern Sea Route.

The potential impacts of this provision alone to maritime mobility could be significant; the regulation is arguably an attempt to unilaterally bypass vital high seas freedoms and navigational rights, such as innocent passage and transit passage that ships would otherwise be entitled to, in order to assert greater control over the shipping channel. Though UNCLOS (Article 234) provides for limited legislative and enforcement rights in “ice covered areas” of a coastal state’s EEZ, any coastal state legislation adopted under this limited authority must have “due regard to navigation.” As such, the Russian Federation’s reliance on Article 234 as the international legal basis for its regulation requiring ships to request permission to enter the water areas of the Northern Sea Route is overreaching. The impacts to navigation of this provision are severe.

Russian nuclear icebreaker NS 50 Let Pobedy (Sputnik, Sergey Eshenko)

With respect to whether the Russian Federation can expect a favorable ruling from the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf on their extended continental shelf claim, I would say that the Russians are certainly doing everything in their power to see that they do. And if they do not receive a favorable ruling, I fully expect them to continue conducting research into the Arctic seabed, compiling data, and submitting revised claims, much like they did in 2015 after their 2001 application was rejected and the Commission requested additional scientific evidence from the Russians to support their claim. The natural resources potentially at stake are too valuable for Russia to simply walk away.

SD: The PRC’s response to the arbitration ruling on claims in the SCS indicated a disregard for international law – can you see such a reaction leading to similar reactions when it comes to Arctic rulings?

There’s always the potential for it and, in fact, already some evidence of it. In 2013, the Russian Federation refused to directly participate in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea proceedings in the Arctic Sunrise case, the dispute between Russia and the Netherlands over law enforcement actions taken by Russia in their Exclusive Economic Zone against a Netherlands-flagged Greenpeace vessel protesting against Russian oil exploration in Arctic waters. To be fair, the Russian Federation did, however, submit several position papers to the arbitral tribunal about various aspects of the case, to include protesting the jurisdiction of the tribunal, but ultimately Russia rejected the tribunal’s ruling.

More generally though, any given nation’s strategic priorities may not always be in perfect alignment with what international law requires. Ideally though, in such a situation, nations will recognize that short-term national “gains” may ultimately compromise their standing within the international community, and erode their ability to partner with other nations. My concern is that as energy resources become less plentiful in other regions and more accessible in the Arctic, particularly in the disputed areas, we may see some nations more inclined to act solely in their own national self-interest, even if their actions are in direct conflict with international law.

To date, however, many of the challenges facing the Arctic have been addressed collectively. There appears to be a genuine spirit of international cooperation in the region. We’ve seen this in the Ottawa Declaration establishing the Arctic Council as a forum for intergovernmental cooperation in the region, the commitment to the Law of the Sea as the legal framework to govern the Arctic Ocean made by the Arctic coastal states in the Ilulissat Declaration, the participation of the Arctic coastal states in the formation of the International Maritime Organization’s Polar Code, and the successful development of a binding multilateral search and rescue agreement between all of the Arctic nations, governing the entire region. There are many examples of international collaboration in the Arctic, and I am cautiously optimistic that nations will respect collective interests – such as adherence to international law – even when there may be some short-term national advantage to be gained by disregarding them. The Arctic is not a region where you can “go it alone.”

SD: Let’s discuss militarization in the Arctic – do you foresee a trend toward greater military presence in the Arctic and what possible implications of this movement might you caution?

I do, and it is a trend that cannot be solely attributed to any one nation. Many of the Arctic countries are increasing their military footprints in the region, which of course has a ripple effect. As you know, the Russian Federation recently stood up a Joint Strategic Command for the Arctic. The entirety of Russia’s Northern Fleet was completely absorbed into this new Arctic Command, and the land component is comprised of two brigades, with plans for a third, as well as specially trained Arctic coastal defense divisions. Fourteen airfields and sixteen deepwater ports are in various stages of development along the Northern Sea Route. Russian submarine patrols across the North Atlantic rose by nearly 50 percent last year. These capabilities and this infrastructure positions Russia to have a dominant military presence in the Arctic for the foreseeable future.

Despite this escalation, however, I think the potential for a large-scale, conventional conflict in the region is low. Perhaps that’s naïve, but there is little evidence that the Arctic nations will abandon diplomacy as the preferred dispute resolution tool in favor of force. In fact, the evidence points to the contrary. I think what is more likely is another “Black Sea Bumping Incident” type scenario between an Arctic coastal state, defending what they believe their territorial integrity, and a foreign naval vessel, exercising freedom of navigation, perhaps along the Northern Sea Route. Of course, this kind of scenario can – in and of itself – lead to an escalation.

SD: How would you answer those who feel UNCLOS is insufficient when considering legal issues in the High North?

I agree with the wisdom of the signatories to the Illulissat Declaration. The Arctic is primarily a maritime region, and the Law of the Sea is the appropriate international legal regime. Many of the future challenges in the Arctic – delineating the outer limits of the continental shelf, which will hopefully resolve many of the potential resource disputes in the region; ensuring freedom of navigation along shipping routes that may become increasingly more accessible with the changing climate; ensuring comprehensive, but fair, environmental stewardship – are challenges that the Law of the Sea already addresses. Bilateral and multilateral treaties on specific issues – for example, the Arctic Search and Rescue Treaty – can help fill most of the gaps not directly addressed by the Law of the Sea. In terms of a governing body of law, however, the Law of the Sea, to include UNCLOS, is more than sufficient.

Commander Sean Fahey, United States Coast Guard, is currently assigned as the Associate Director for the Law of Maritime Operations at the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the U.S Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of International Law Studies. He can be reached at Sean.Fahey@usnwc.edu

The views and opinions expressed here are presented in a personal and unofficial capacity. They are not to be construed as official policy or reflecting the views of the United States Coast Guard or any other U.S. government agency. 

Sally DeBoer is currently serving as the President of CIMSEC for 2016-2017. She can be reached at president@cimsec.org.

Featured Image: Russian nuclear icebreaker NS 50 Let Pobedy (Sputnik/Vladimir Astapkovich)

Reagan-Era Navy Secretary John Lehman on Naval Recapitalization

By Dmitry Filipoff

John F. Lehman Jr. served as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration from 1981-1987. In this role, he advocated for the 600-ship Navy and went on to lead one of the most significant naval buildups in American history. In this interview, he recalls the critical elements that drove the Reagan-era naval buildup and what lessons can be applied to the new administration’s effort to build a 350-ship Navy. 

In building up to the 600-ship Navy, what role did strategy play in informing budget? How did the 1980s Maritime Strategy help justify a naval buildup when many powerful voices argued against it?

Strategy played an essential role – arguably THE essential role. I spent years thinking about naval strategy before I became Secretary, sitting at the feet of masters, and I was able to hit the ground running to both promulgate and also implement that strategy through exercises at sea, within the context of President Reagan’s own well-thought-out goals, from the first day I was in office. I was blessed by CNOs who “got” strategy – especially Admirals Tom Hayward and Jim Watkins – and who developed and maintained a superb set of institutions and strategically-minded officers that were able to explain and carry out our Maritime Strategy from the get-go whether at sea; in Washington; in Newport, Annapolis and Monterey; and in Navy and joint commands all around the world. We were able to counter those “powerful voices arguing against it” time and time again.

How did you build a strong relationship with Congress and what arguments sustained their support?

We had many strong and experienced Navy supporters in Congress. First among them were Senators John Stennis, Scoop Jackson, John Tower and former SecNav John Warner. Our message to Congress was loud and clear: We had a disciplined logical  strategy that would lead to American maritime superiority and success at sea. To carry out that strategy successfully, we needed a 600-ship Navy. And, recognizing that such a navy would undeniably cost money, we committed ourselves to fundamentally change Navy weapons development and procurement, bringing costs down dramatically.

We did this by restoring authority and accountability to officials, not to bureaucracies. Gold-plating and a change order culture were ended, which enabled fixed-price contracts and annual production competition. Navy shipbuilding actually had a net cost underrun of $8 billion during the Reagan years, the first and only time in history. Congress saw that we kept our word and did what we said we would, and gave us its support year after year.

The new administration is seeking to build a 350-ship Navy. What will it take to achieve this goal sooner than later, and should this buildup be used as an opportunity to augment existing force structure?

First, it will take immediate enunciation of a clear, compelling strategy. Next, as the fleet shrank from 594 to the current 274, the Defense bureaucracy has grown. Bureaucratic bloat must be slashed immediately through early retirement, buyouts, and natural attrition. Next, the kind of line management accountability that marked the Reagan years can end constant change orders and enable fixed price competition.

In addition to these deep reforms it will of course take an immediate infusion of more money. And it will take an immediate refocus on drastically ramping up competition within the defense industry

With regard to force structure, the Navy desperately needs frigates. We do not need more LCSs nor can they be modified to fill the frigate requirement. We do not need to have a wholly new design as there are several excellent designs in European navies that could be built in American yards with the latest American technology. Indeed, the now-retired Perry class could easily be built again with the newest weapons and technology.

Naval aviation needs more and longer range strike aircraft. The advanced design F-18 can help fill this need with a program to procure a mix of both F-35s and advanced F-18s with annual buys, effectively competing the two aircraft for the optimum lowest cost mix.

The Navy faces multiple competing demands for resources including deferred maintenance that is hampering readiness and insatiable combatant commander demand for greater capacity. Additionally, the rapid rate of technological change is opening up numerous possibilities for new capabilities. Where should the Navy prioritize its investments to ensure credible combat power going forward?

There are some who argue that the dismal state of readiness must be dealt with first, and then the procurement of a larger fleet after. That would be a mistake. The priority is to achieve balance. Readiness and sustainability must be dealt with simultaneously with embarking on procuring the necessary new ships and aircraft.

In the 80s I was a vocal proponent of 15 carrier battle groups. But I was no less an advocate for 100 attack submarines. The Navy defends the nation across the entire spectrum of conflict—from what my old shipmate CNO Jim Watkins called the “violent peace,” through deterring and controlling crises around the world, to fighting and winning wars and deterring nuclear holocaust. That’s a tall order, but a necessary one.

Navy Secretary John Lehman in October 1982 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Navy needs to be able to pummel targets ashore, land Marines and SEALs, sink submarines and surface ships, knock sophisticated airplanes and missiles out of the sky by the dozens, lay and neutralize mines, get the Army’s and Air Force’s gear to the fight, and use both hard kill and soft kill power to do all that, as required.

The force structure needed to perform successfully at sea across that range of operations is extraordinarily varied, and must be continually balanced and adjusted, as we did with our 600-ship force goal all through the 1980s. It can be done, and the new administration and Congress must do it.

Your time as SECNAV involved hard-fought battles with industry to ensure better and more cost-effective shipbuilding. How can the Navy better work with industry to facilitate a buildup and improve acquisition?

The Navy must get its procurement system under control. It must end gold plating and constant design changes. Industry cannot sign fixed price contracts unless the Navy has completed detailed design and frozen the requirements. When that is done the disciplines of competition and innovation can return. Shipbuilders can make good profits by performance, cost reduction, and innovation in such a disciplined environment.

Of the possible operational contingencies the Navy faces around the world, which poses the greatest challenge to the Navy in successfully defending American allies and interests?

Would that it were so simple. The Navy is the nation’s premier flexible and global force. It must be able to deter disturbers of the peace like Islamist terror, and potentially the Chinese, Russians, Iranians, and North Koreans, and to destroy their forces if deterrence fails. The Navy must meet them toe-to-toe all around the world wherever they stir up trouble.

True, during the Cold War, we focused – and appropriately so – on pushing Soviet naval bears back into their cages in the North Atlantic, the North Pacific, the Med, and the Arctic. But we also had to be prepared – and were prepared – to turn on a dime to carry out President Reagan’s orders in and off Lebanon, in Grenada and off Nicaragua, over Gaddafi’s Libya, in the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War, and all over the world against Middle Eastern hijackers and terrorists. Simultaneously we were engaged in saving hundreds of lives rescuing Vietnamese boat people in the South China Sea, and performing many other humanitarian missions around the globe.  

What strategic and operational concepts would best apply naval power to today’s threats and adversaries?

To reestablish maritime supremacy and “Command of the Seas.”

The size, deployments, and capabilities of the U.S. Navy are indicative of America’s chosen role in world affairs. What would it mean for the Navy if the incoming administration adopts isolationism?

Despite occasional tweets to the contrary, an administration that has sworn to protect its citizens and businesses everywhere, renegotiate trade deals, and destroy ISIS cannot be characterized as “adopting isolationism.” Such a policy is unthinkable today.

200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson tried to get by with isolationism on the cheap, invested in a fleet of low-end gun-boats of limited value, and set his successor James Madison up to fight the War of 1812 to no better than a draw.

A little more than 100 years later, a succession of administrations adopted isolationism as their policy and disarmed their by-then world-class Navy through bad international treaties and worse budgets. As a result, the Navy struggled during the first two years of World War II before hitting its stride and surging to victory (read Jim Hornfischer’s and Ian Toll’s recent books for how we did that).

Threats to the nation won’t go away just because the country may turn inward. They will just try to push the country back across the oceans and then keep pushing ashore. American naval supremacy will guarantee that can’t happen.

What final advice do you have for the next Secretary of the Navy?

Have a sound strategy, and stick to it. Have a robust but achievable force goal. Cut costs and increase competition everywhere you can. Balance and adjust the fleet among all its competing missions, regions, and levels of conflict, and above all, ensure the capability to deter or defeat the most dangerous potential enemies of our nation. The new secretary must immediately go on the offensive against bureaucratic bloat, against sloppy contracting, against gold-plating and for fixed price production competition, and technological innovation through block upgrades.

While engaged in this righteous offensive he must constantly explain and articulate his strategy, his objectives, and his vision to Congress, to the Sailors and Marines, and to the American people.

The nation elected a new President with a set of clear and purposeful goals. The Secretary of the Navy must ensure that – under his charge – the nation’s Navy becomes stronger and readier to carry them out.

The Hon. John F. Lehman Jr. is Chairman of J.F. Lehman & Company, a private equity investment firm. He is a director of Ball Corporation, Verisk, Inc and EnerSys Corporation. Dr. Lehman was formerly an investment banker with PaineWebber Inc. Prior to joining PaineWebber, he served for six years as Secretary of the Navy. He was President of Abington Corporation between 1977 and 1981. He served 25 years in the naval reserve. He has served as staff member to Dr. Henry Kissinger on the National Security Council, as delegate to the Force Reductions Negotiations in Vienna and as Deputy Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Dr. Lehman served as a member of the 9/11 Commission, and the National Defense Commission. Dr. Lehman holds a B.S. from St. Joseph’s University, a B.A. and M.A. from Cambridge University and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently an Hon. Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University. Dr. Lehman has written numerous books, including On Seas of Glory, Command of the Seas and Making War. He is Chairman of the Princess Grace Foundation USA and is a member of the Board of Overseers of the School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org.

Featured Image: Secretary of the Navy John Lehman aboard USS Iowa in July, 1986. 

A Conversation with Naval Fiction Writer David Poyer, Author of Onslaught

By CIMSEC Book Review Team

CIMSEC sat down with author David Poyer, former naval officer and author of the ‘Tales of the Modern Navy’ series of novels, among other exciting modern and historical naval fiction titles. Poyer’s latest title, Onslaught, finds protagonist Dan Lenson in command of USS Savo Island during the opening salvo of the war with China. Poyer’s masterful character development, eye for technical details, and comprehensive understanding of life at sea have made him a favorite of fans of this genre. We asked him about his writing process, inspiration, and more.

CIMSEC: You do an excellent job of combining intrigue and drama with technical details and action. How do you do this and how do you begin the writing process?

DP: Thanks! I’m notoriously process-oriented, having been originally educated as a naval officer and engineer, and worked as a submarine systems designer before going into fiction. These days, though, I teach narrative structure at the Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University. So…here goes!

A quick overview: I begin with a general plot idea, then sketch out how each character will contribute to the overall story. Next, I construct the arcs for those characters. During this process, scenes will have started to come to me. Also, thoughts for more scenes and plot points occur as I do background reading and interviews and ship visits.

Eventually I generate a ten-to fifteen-page single-spaced outline of the action proper of the novel. This “blueprint,” plus the character studies, makes it possible for me to cruise through the first draft at a rate of about four pages a day without too much angst, and without excuses or writer’s block.

Author David Poyer

Of course, six months later, that only gives me the first draft! Lenore Hart, my better half who’s also a novelist, reads the second draft and makes extensive comments I revise. Then a varied stable of retired and active duty Navy, Marine, NCIS, State, physicians, and many other subject matter experts comment on their sections. After that I revise again. (I put a lot of time and effort into trying to make events and descriptions as authentic as possible, while still driving the action forward with drama and suspense). Four to five drafts later, after I’ve cut out every possible excess word, it’s time for my editor at St. Martin’s, George Witte, to see it!

CIMSEC: What do you think readers, especially readers in the naval profession like many of our readers here at CIMSEC, can derive from your narrative? What are you trying to convey?

DP: I started out as a writer simply wanting to recount and reflect on my own early experiences at sea. The Med, The Circle, and The Passage were based on specific cruises, events, and locales I saw during active duty. For example, The Circle was inspired when USS Bowen deployed north of the Arctic Circle in winter, with orders to find the biggest storm around and stay in it as long as we could. (This was to test a new sonar system). So I didn’t have to research what Arctic storms looked and felt like!

In terms of artistic intent, at first I was largely innocent. Mainly I wanted to craft an exciting story. If a deeper theme emerged, great. And over the years I’ve been blessed with some critical acclaim. But the reviews that warm my heart most are from the enlisted, chiefs, and officers who write to thank me for a realistic portrayal of the sacrifices they’ve made. If I can bring such stories to a general audience as well, I’ve met my basic requirements.

A few recurrent motifs or themes do underlay my work, but they’re not buried so deeply you need a PhD in literature or philosophy to winkle them out. After my first dozen or so novels, I realized that every work had been about the question, ‘What is the ultimate authority or guide we can depend on for ethical action?’ I don’t really concern myself much with “identity,” which much current fiction seems occupied with. I know who I am, and my characters, in general, know who they are. That doesn’t mean they aren’t conflicted and uncertain. I’m attracted to deeply-layered, multidimensional characters who act as well as think. But to act means to decide; to choose. As John Gardner, one of my early mentors and exemplars put it, every novel is, at its deepest heart, a morality play.

That, I think, is why some of my novels have been taught at the Naval Academy: they’re not simply thrillers; they’re about difficult choices made in short time frames under terrible stress. Exactly what sometimes happens at sea.

CIMSEC: Onslaught explores a hypothetical conflict with China. How much of what you include in your novels is inspired by current events and what other sources do you call on for inspiration?

DP: I started research and planning of the War with China series – The Cruiser, Tipping Point, Onslaught, and two more books now in progress – well before tensions with that country reached the current near-boiling point. You have to realize, a novel is written at least two years before you see it on the shelves; a year to write, and a year in production. Complex and research-intensive ones take even longer. So I can’t really tune too close an ear to current events. Nor am I psychic! The books are thus based on my own strategic calculations and a knowledge of history. (I did the same thing earlier with The Gulf). Around 2008 I asked myself, What if there were a new Pacific war? Everything downstream flowed from that initial “what if.”

CIMSEC: It seems as though your last two works bore some resemblance to the outbreak of the First World War and the geopolitical tensions that characterized that time in history. Was this intentional?

Very much so; in fact I refer in the narrative to Dan Lenson’s reading of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. The problem the U.S. faces in accommodating a previously stable international structure to the rise of a peer competitor is much like that which the British Empire faced in dealing with Imperial Germany, or Rome with Carthage, or even farther back, Sparta vs. Athens. Other influences are Sallust, Gibbon, Thucydides, the battles of Savo Island and Guadalcanal, Korean medieval history, the tactics of Ulysses S. Grant, and Allied op plans (both executed and not) for the latter stages of WWII, among many others.

I loved the comparison between the skills of ancient mariners and modern high-end war; specifically I am thinking of the instance in which your Chief Quartermaster takes a celestial fix – I pictured him doing so on the port bridge wing above the SPY faces. That really conjured an image for me of the juxtaposition of ancient naval practices and modern technology.

I think one of the distinguishing themes of sea fiction, what Professor Herb Gilliland of the Naval Academy calls “techné,” the machinery that’s mastered (or at least used) in sea tales.

The most complicated device existing in the 18th century was a full-rigged warship, and its present-day successors are among the most complex devices today. Think of The Sand Pebbles; if you took the machinery out there wouldn’t be much book left. Or Delilah by Marcus Goodrich, the crew manhandling and shoveling all that coal from the bulkhead bunkers into the boilers. Under technique also falls seamanship, and the skills and even artistry involved in steering safely through changing weather and sea conditions.

And you’re right, at sea today we have to be masters of both an ancient set of skills and comfortable at the very cutting edge of 21st-century technology. Both the fascination and the challenge for me lies in making the advanced technology involved in, say, intercepting an incoming ballistic missile terminal body with an Aegis-steered Standard missile comprehensible to the general or lay audience. Sometimes I fail in that regard; I remember one reviewer wrote, “I learned more about the Navy than I really wanted to know.” Not the impression I wanted to leave!

In general, if I hear equal numbers of readers complaining that I didn’t go deeply enough into the techné, and others that I got too technical and acronymophilic, I should be roughly in the middle of the channel. Complicating that further in the later books in this series will be that war inevitably accelerates technology…which means I may have to go beyond anything currently used in the Fleet.

CIMSEC: Crime aboard ships is a common thread throughout the series – why is that? Is this intentional and is this something you have personal experience with, or is it just a storytelling device?

Well, crime isn’t as prevalent in the USN as it is in my series, that’s for sure. On the other hand, we’ve all read about service-related cases of bribery, sexual abuse, rape, theft, counterfeit parts, murder. Every crime ashore has its cousin at sea. It would actually be unrealistic to pretend it doesn’t happen.

War and crime seem analogous in certain ways. They force choices and actions, and sometimes very difficult ones, on both the participants and those who must find the perpetrator and administer justice. Remember your high school lit classes, where they talked about the various forms of antagonists: human, animal, natural, corporate, governmental, enemy, etc? The more of these conflicts I can layer into the story, the more complex and punishing it becomes for the characters, the greater the forward velocity and the more strongly the reader becomes involved.

CIMSEC: Your story features very competent but very diverse female characters, which is a rarity in this genre of fiction. Is this an important message to you as an author and former naval officer or a reflection of the makeup of a modern crew at sea?

I don’t think it’s as much some kind of “message” as a reflection or realization that this is how things are now, both at sea and ashore. Still, it took me a few novels to feel comfortable with portraying a female voice or point of view. My first two or three novels weren’t that effective in portraying black, female, or gay characters. But as I moved out of the all-white environment I grew up in, and as the rather homogeneous and all-male Navy of the 1970s and 80s changed, my views widened. My first book with a female central intelligence was The Whiteness of the Whale, with Dr. Sara Pollard. I’m happy with the way that turned out and it got some very pleasant reviews.

To take it a step farther, I don’t believe a writer should or can be limited to drawing characters that reflect only his or her own ethnicity and gender. Providing access to the interior thoughts and feelings of what the reader considers the “other” is one of the primary functions of fiction. But with that freedom also comes a responsibility: to portray every character as truly and complex as possible, without defaulting to clichés or cardboard villains. One of the most difficult characters I ever had to inhabit was the treacherous, fanatical Al-Maahdi in The Crisis. But eventually I understood why he became what he became. That’s not the same as sympathizing with his actions, of course.

CIMSEC: Your characters are drawn in a way that is so sophisticated and complex – are they based in any way on individuals you’ve served with?

DP: Sometimes!!

CIMSEC: Onslaught features a total breakdown of the international system and diplomacy, as we know it. Is this something you feel we are moving toward?

DP: Unfortunately, nations do seem to be demolishing or abandoning, one by one, the international structures and norms that promoted accommodation, protected human rights, and acted to prevent war. China dismisses the rulings of international courts. The U.S. behaves more and more cavalierly toward long-time allies. The president of the Philippines brags about his extrajudicial killings. Russia subverts any democracy it can. Combine these with a decline in the former relative preponderance of U.S. power in the western Pacific, and the events in Tipping Point and Onslaught begin to seem not just possible, but all too likely.

CIMSEC: What message do you hope junior officers and sailors reading your novels can take away and apply to their profession?

Nothing unique or new, I fear. Merely this:

Know your job.

Care for your troops.

And always try to do the right thing, even if it may hurt your career.

CIMSEC: Where does the series go from here and what’s next for Daniel Lenson?

DP: After the opening of the Pacific war in Tipping Point, and its first battles in Onslaught, the next strategic question will be: can the Allies hold the central Pacific? IF we can’t, then no recovery and new offensive farther west is possible. Of course Dan, Blair, Obie, and Cheryl will all be in the thick of the action. So look for Hunter Killer in December of 2017…and thanks for the interview!

David Poyer was born in DuBois, Pennsylvania in 1949. He grew up in Brockway, Emlenton, and Bradford, in western Pennsylvania, and graduated from Bradford Area High School in 1967. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1971, and later received a master’s degree from George Washington University.

His active and reserve naval service included sea duty in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Arctic, Caribbean, and Pacific, and shore duty at the Pentagon, Surface Warfare Development Group, Joint Forces Command, and in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. 

Poyer began writing in 1976, and is the author of over forty books, including THE MED, THE GULF, THE CIRCLE, THE PASSAGE, TOMAHAWK,  CHINA SEA, BLACK STORM, THE COMMAND, THE THREAT, KOREA STRAIT, THE WEAPON, THE CRISIS, THE TOWERS, THE CRUISER and TIPPING POINT, best-selling Navy novels; THE DEAD OF WINTER, WINTER IN THE HEART, AS THE WOLF LOVES WINTER, and THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN, set in the Pennsylvania hills; and HATTERAS BLUE, BAHAMAS BLUE, LOUISIANA BLUE, and DOWN TO A SUNLESS SEA, underwater adventure. Other noteworthy books are THE ONLY THING TO FEAR, a historical thriller, THE RETURN OF PHILO T. McGIFFIN, a comic novel of Annapolis, and the three volumes of The Civil War at Sea, FIRE ON THE WATERS,  A COUNTRY OF OUR OWN, and THAT ANVIL OF OUR SOULS.  He’s also done two well-reviewed sailing novels, GHOSTING and THE WHITENESS OF THE WHALE, and several nonfiction books.  Two books will appear later this year: ONSLAUGHT, another Modern Navy novel, and ON POLITICS AND WAR, co-authored with Arnold Punaro.

Poyer’s work has been  translated into Japanese, Dutch, Italian, and Serbo-Croatian, recorded for audiobooks, published as ebooks, selected by the Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club, etc. Rights to several properties have been sold or optioned for films. 

Poyer has taught or lectured at Annapolis, Flagler College, University of Pittsburgh, Old Dominion University, the Armed Forces Staff College, the University of North Florida, Christopher Newport University, and other institutions. He has been a guest on PBS’s “Writer to Writer” series and on Voice of America, and has appeared at the Southern Festival of Books and many other literary events. He currently a fellow at the Virginia Center of Creative Arts, and teaches in the MA/MFA in Creative Writing program at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre and at the Ossawbaw Island Writers’ Retreat.  He lives on Virginia’s Eastern Shore with his wife, novelist Lenore Hart.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (June 16, 2009) – Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63) and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) steam in formation during a photo exercise June 16. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Bryan Reckard)

A Conversation with Dr. Andrew Erickson on Chinese Naval Shipbuilding

By Sally DeBoer

On the occasion of the publication of his newest book, Chinese Naval Shipbuilding: An Ambitious and Uncertain Course, the 6th volume in the USNI Press’ Studies in Chinese Maritime Development Series, CIMSEC spoke with editor and author Dr. Andrew Erickson, Professor of Strategy in, and a core founding member of, the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). 

SD: Dr. Erickson, thank you so much for joining CIMSEC to talk about your new book, Chinese Naval Shipbuilding. This topic is of great interest to our readership, and your book is perhaps the most comprehensive, detailed, and up-to-date look at the growth, and specifically the methods and implications of that growth, of the People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLAN). To begin, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to this topic?

AE: In twelve years in Newport, I’ve been privileged to help establish the U.S. Navy (USN)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) and turn it into a recognized research center that has inspired both the Air Force’s China Aerospace Studies Institute and the Naval War College’s Russia Maritime Studies Institute. In my own analysis, I’ve explored new areas of Chinese-language methodology and worked to develop new concepts and findings that can enhance U.S. understanding of, and policies toward, China.

With the support of CMSI’s current director, Professor Peter Dutton, I have recently applied our Institute’s resources to examining the industrial underpinnings of one of this century’s most significant events, China’s maritime transformation. Strong strategic demand signals and guidance from civilian authorities, combined with solid shipbuilding industry capability, are already driving rapid progress. 41m2jjlessl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Yet China’s course and its implications, including at sea, remain highly uncertain—triggering intense speculation and concern from many quarters and in many directions. Moreover, despite these important dynamics, no book had previously focused on this topic and addressed it from a USN perspective. Like the CMSI conference on which it is based, the resulting volume in our series with the Naval Institute Press, “Studies in Chinese Maritime Development,” focuses some of the world’s leading experts and analysts on addressing several crucial questions of paramount importance to the USN and senior decision makers: To what extent, and to what end, is China going to sea? What are China’s prospects for success in key areas of naval shipbuilding? What are the likely results for China’s navy? What are the implications for the USN?

SD: Part One of the text deals with Foundations and Resources, meaning the foundations of China’s shipbuilding industry and the assets supporting its efforts. The first chapter, in fact, explores how the evolution of China’s maritime strategy impacts future ship design. From your perspective, what primary mission needs will drive Chinese shipbuilding over the next quarter century, and what effect will that have on the fleet?

AE: China’s primary focus remains upholding its interests and promoting its disputed claims in the “Near Seas”—which encompass the waters within the First Island Chain (the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea)—as well as defending their immediate approaches. It also has a growing desire to increase operational capability in the “Far Seas”—beyond the First Island Chain. This is essentially about being able to project power. First, to improve the defense of China itself; and second, to defend China’s growing economic interests abroad, which largely depend on unfettered access to the sea.

However, operating at greater distances from China places greater demands on its naval platforms as it becomes far more difficult to support surface ships, submarines, and aircraft the farther they move away from the coast. If we look at the desired capabilities for Far Seas operations, then we should expect improvements in surface combatant area anti-air defenses, anti-submarine warfare, and strike warfare. Chinese deck aviation components are largely air defense assets right now. A robust land attack/strike capability is the next step. Improvements in acoustic quieting are absolutely necessary if PLAN submarines are to survive being targeted in deeper, blue water environments. Shifts toward anti-submarine and strike warfare will represent the biggest likely changes in combat capabilities. Also required: a significant improvement in Chinese logistics support to sustain deployed platforms. The PLAN has started actively pursuing these goals, but it will take some time before it masters them.

SD: China’s rise as a global sea-going power is recent, relatively speaking. Has China’s shipbuilding industry been more proactive or reactive to perceived and notional threats? How does the influence of the Chinese Communist Party affect this? One facet your contributors raise repeatedly is Chinese civilian shipyards’ overcapacity and the problems stemming from that.

AE: China’s shipbuilding industry has been assigned an important role and set of requirements by its civilian and military masters: the Party, State, and PLA. The present naval buildout dates to the mid-1990s, apparently catalyzed and accelerated in part by a series of events that impressed China’s leaders with their inability to counter American military dominance. These included Operation Desert Storm (1991), the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis (1995-96), and the Belgrade Embassy Bombing (1999). This suggests that China has been more reactive than proactive regarding external events that affected it at a national level. The fact that many PLAN systems are based on foreign systems reinforces this reactive aspect. That said, China’s rapid growth also means that it is closing the technological gap and is nearing a point where it could transition to a more proactive approach.

SD: One absolutely fascinating aspect of Chinese shipyard infrastructure is that its two largest conglomerates, China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) and China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), are publicly traded. Have you given any thought to the potential oddities or complications of such an arrangement?

AE: Yes—discussion of this arrangement and its implications has pervaded the conference and the book. China’s state shipbuilders enjoy diversifying bases and increasing extent of financial resources, potentially facilitating greater dynamism and innovation. Following the past decade-plus boom and recent consolidation, depressed civilian demand creates mounting incentives to seek compensatory naval contracts. Yet these state-owned enterprises retain tremendous inefficiencies. Their institutional culture remains influenced by legacy values, norms, and incentives. Their monopoly structure remains one of the central impediments to improving efficiency and innovation. On the other hand, private yards are oriented toward short-term, profit-minded thinking and are not funded to engage in long-term R&D-intensive projects. While CSIC and CSSC have increasingly undertaken naval and para-naval business to absorb excess yard capacity after commercial “Peak Ship” construction occurred around 2012, private yards have largely been left to fend for themselves. Throughout the industry, bureaucratic barriers to efficiency and effectiveness remain a problem, especially for propulsion and shipboard electronic systems and their integration into ships.

SD: Can you speak to the issue of maintenance? Was this new expanded fleet designed with any kind of maintenance scheme or program in mind? Do you foresee effective maintenance being a limiting factor for the PLAN in the near future, and why?

AE: As one of the conference attendees with shipyard management experience emphasized, a navy’s ownership of ships has not one but three basic phases: (1) platform/system acquisition, (2) operations/sustainment/modernization, and (3) disposal. China has pursued phase one front-end procurement with alacrity, but lacks the comprehensive familiarity with phase two that a more mature navy, like that of the United States, has learned through painful, expensive experience.

American public and private sector infrastructure (the industrial base) dedicated to lifecycle sustainment is significantly larger than the industrial base necessary to build ships. Like a goat that tasted great but will strain a python’s digestive tract, a major mid-life maintenance bill for the overhauls of all China’s new ships will start coming due in the next 5-10 years. This requirement to “pay the piper” after years of massive buildout and increasing deployment amid acute maintenance infrastructure underinvestment haunted Soviet naval development in decades past; China may now be poised to reap a similar whirlwind even as economic slowdown imposes tougher tradeoffs. In any event, China’s investment in sustainment and modernization will inform its strategy for naval operations; this merits further research. Related questions concern the degree to which China is developing an inventory of repair parts and logistics infrastructure; as well as the extent of its surge capacity to sustain a fleet suffering significant battle damage.

SD: An issue of great interest to our readers is the possibility of President-elect Trump’s promise of a “350-ship Navy” and increased military spending across the board. Do you believe that such a development (to the extent possible over the short-term of a 4-to-8-year administration) will have an effect on the way China develops its shipbuilding industry and Navy?

AE: Both the United States and China appear to be in a state of considerable flux, at least from a naval force structure perspective. The U.S. shipbuilding plan has been in disarray. The Congressionally-mandated Alternative Carrier Study and the USN-sponsored Fleet Architecture Study are designed to provide significant input to the Force Structure Assessment being assembled by N81, the Assessment Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. As part of the Fleet Architecture Study, Congress has requested alternative reports from a federally-funded research and development center (FFRDC) and a private think tank. These efforts are envisioned to inform the fiscal year 2018 budget and the new thirty-year shipbuilding plan. This new thinking, combined with President-elect Trump’s proposed initiative, has made the American side of any future strategic comparison extremely fluid. Given the challenges at hand, it is imperative that the next Secretary of the Navy come into the job with deep knowledge and experience concerning fleet architecture and construction. Congressman J. Randy Forbes, who has endorsed our volume, is considered by many in the USN and shipbuilding communities to be the ideal candidate.

As for China, its slowing economy and gross overcapacity in many industrial areas make it very unlikely to be able to remain on the current shipbuilding binge. Any straight-line projection based on the last 10-15 years is therefore fraught with peril. Nevertheless, China has already parlayed its possession of the world’s second largest economy and defense budget into the world’s second most powerful navy. Working with China’s other services, the PLAN will be increasingly capable of contesting American sea control within growing range rings extending beyond Beijing’s unresolved feature and maritime claims in the East and South China Seas. Moreover, China is spending a relatively low percentage of GDP on defense, and could afford to greatly increase spending on naval shipbuilding if determined to do so.

SD: The text concludes that, should spending and shipbuilding continue on its current trajectory, the PLAN will be a match for the U.S. Navy in terms of hardware by 2030. In realistic terms, how and where are the first dollars of notional increased U.S. military spending applied to best protect the primacy of American sea power? Is there a realistic way for Washington to address this in the (relatively short) time frame of 14 years?

dr_andrew_s_erickson_testimony_before_the_house_committee_on_foreign_affairs_subcommittee_on_asia_and_the_pacific_20150723-1024x683
Dr. Erickson testifying before Congress.

AE: As I’ve testified before Congress, the place for Washington to start is clear: maintain and build on formidable undersea advantages to which Beijing lacks effective countermeasures and would have to invest vastly disproportionate resources in a slow, likely futile effort to close the gap. American shipyards can expand production lines already in use to increase the construction rate of Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) from two-and-potentially-falling to a solid three per year. These submarines are ideal for denying China the ability to hold and resupply any forcefully seized features. The Virginia Payload Module allows for useful increases in missile capacity. Given China’s ongoing limitations in anti-submarine warfare and the inherent difficulty of progressing in this field, it could spend many times the cost of these SSNs and still not be able to counter them effectively.

SD: Part Two of Chinese Naval Shipbuilding addressed some historical peculiarities of China’s shipyard infrastructure compared to that of other nations with similar or comparable capability, including the Republic of South Korea (ROK), its closest regional competitor in terms of tonnage produced. What’s striking is the diversity of output, turnover of new facilities/closing of old ones, and the variable nature of investment and success. One reason given for this by contributors Sue Hall and Audrye Wong is the “intermingling of merchant and military shipbuilding.” How will consolidating military shipbuilding under a state umbrella improve or restrict the PLAN’s growth?

AE: Privately-owned Chinese shipyards remain weak compared to Korean and Japanese counterparts. It is large state-owned enterprises that will likely lead Beijing’s maritime strategic-industrial transformation. In aggregate, and increasingly together, CSIC and CSSC possess great resources and capacity. CSIC and CSSC were unified until 1999, then divided along geographic and functional lines so as not to compete directly. CSIC has the majority of R&D centers, and is to date the primary builder of surface ships and submarines for the PLAN.

Some of our contributors believe true reintegration will occur—as widely reported in Chinese and foreign media—as part of broader efforts to increase efficiency and available resources and to consolidate China’s shipbuilding industry into fewer facilities of greater quality and capability, specifically to reach a State Council-mandated reduction in the number of commercial shipyards from several hundred to sixty. Those doubting that meaningful merger will occur observed that most unions to date exploit geographical efficiencies and that this “low-hanging fruit” has been thoroughly plucked. China is also attempting to ameliorate organizational and technological impediments by emphasizing integration of commercial and naval shipbuilding processes, which some industry experts believe could improve quality and efficiency. Reflecting widespread skepticism among Western specialists concerning the extent and efficacy of such approaches, others maintain that this will actually reduce efficiency and increase challenges because of the fundamentally different natures of naval and commercial shipbuilding. If China somehow succeeds in enhancing market-oriented performance while strengthening centralized oversight—a difficult combination to achieve—it will have the wherewithal to deploy a formidable navy indeed.

SD: One aspect of the PLAN we haven’t discussed much is the development of a robust domestic nuclear submarine program. According to an IHS Jane’s Defence and Security Forecast cited in the book, some $27 billion will be applied to new nuclear- and conventionally-powered projects in the coming years. Why has the PLAN struggled to make the kinds of strides in its subsurface fleet as it has in other areas, and how do you foresee the PLAN’s subsurface fleet evolving between now and 2030?

AE: Propulsion quite literally determines how fast and far Chinese warships can go, and what they can accomplish in many respects. Yet it remains the Chinese shipbuilding industry’s single biggest shortcoming, and hence one of China’s key naval weaknesses. The PLAN is, literally, underpowered; a situation that is unlikely to progress until China’s precision manufacturing capability improves. Nuclear propulsion advances—especially in power density and acoustic quieting—remain difficult to ascertain, but a key variable affecting future progress will be the degree of Russian assistance. China is working hard to acquire, develop, and master relevant technologies, but improvements will be slow, difficult, and expensive. Another related issue is that PLAN nuclear submarines are noisy. This is a significant problem, not only from a survival perspective, but also because high self-noise degrades the ability of the submarine to search effectively.

SD: Speaking of subsurface advancements, you and your chapter co-authors discuss the role and possible overstated impact of Air-Independent Power (AIP) technologies with regard to newer conventional Chinese submarines. Many see the efficacy and impact of AIP on China’s subsurface prowess as somewhat of a foregone conclusion, but perhaps that isn’t so. Can you expand on that a bit for the AIP-believers in our readership?

AE: Sea power requires tremendous power! Propulsion determines how fast and far a ship can go; overall power determines what it can accomplish in a given location. The density of water (829 times greater than air) imposes an unforgiving reality on these dynamics: the cubic, or greater, relationship between power and speed. For a ship to go three times faster, at least twenty seven-times the power is needed.

Furthermore, modern advanced weapons systems require high and growing amounts of power to operate their sensors and weapon systems. Nuclear power, the ultimate gold standard, offers unparalleled performance. Among conventional systems, AIP greatly extends the time a submarine can cruise at low speed without draining its battery and risking detection. AIP systems have significant limitations, however: they require large tanks that are cumbersome to deal with in the design, they do not eliminate the need for the submarine to ventilate, and they do not add to the time a boat can operate at a “burst” speed. All variants suffer shortcomings. Fuel cells require ultra-pure metal hydrides that need several dozen hours to refuel with hydrogen—a dangerous fuel. Even advanced Sterling AIP suffers limited efficiency in using oxygen and the products of combustion have to be pumped overboard, creating depth constraints and additional rotating machinery noises. In sum, an AIP submarine has far too little power or stored energy to resemble a “baby nuke.” Germany and Japan are introducing Lithium-ion batteries as a conventional power alternative; Chinese researchers are watching this trend closely.

SD: We would be remiss not to mention China’s aircraft carrier ambitions. How important is the development of an indigenous aircraft carrier program to the PLAN’s overall viability as a global sea power, and what barriers remain for China’s shipbuilding industry in pursuing a fleet of domestically designed aircraft carriers?

AE: Given difficulties inherent in upgrading marine and aviation propulsion, power, and launch technologies—as well as motivations and choices informing it—an evolutionary design path seems likely for China’s aircraft carrier program. This is part of a larger pattern of substantial remaining challenges for China’s shipbuilding industry, particularly in the area of systems integration. Compared to the United States, China retains particular shipbuilding limitations concerning propulsion, information technology, aviation, certain advanced weapons systems, and other complex systems.

For example, shipboard electronics are important to the PLAN’s desired upward trajectory in sophistication, scope, and scale of operations. However, in-depth examination of the Type 054A Jiangkai-II frigate’s electronics suite suggests that—despite increasing prioritization—organizational parochialism, insufficient coordination, and other inefficiencies continue to impede Chinese progress in this vital area. Common to these bottlenecks is the centrality of sensitive, high-performance components that must work together as a sophisticated system-of-systems. This makes it particularly difficult for China to successfully pursue its preferred hybrid approach: obtaining critical foreign technologies and other inputs, developing indigenously those unavailable from abroad, and integrating the results on a “good enough” basis.

SD: Let’s wrap up with a final, and admittedly awfully broad, question. It’s becoming more expensive for the United States to build and maintain high-end warships. Is this same trend true of China and, whether or not the answer is yes, what are the implications of that for the global balance of power?

AE: For over a decade, China’s military maritime modernization effort (including its shipbuilding output) has affected requirements for USN capabilities, particularly by renewing focus on high-end warfare. This has triggered intense debates concerning strategy, budgets, and force architecture, which remain ongoing. The largest, most capable components of China’s growing Chinese distant-waters fleet will increasingly resemble a smaller version of the USN. China will thus have impressive Far Seas-relevant naval forces second only to those of the United States.

However, Beijing has not yet fully experienced the true long-term cost of sustaining top-tier sea power, which tends to eventually outpace economic growth substantially. This will impose difficult tradeoffs concerning budgets and force structure. In an exceptional achievement for a historically continental power, China has already arrived as a major maritime nation, but will face increasingly difficult choices moving forward. Message to Beijing: welcome to the sea power club; now, be careful what you wish for!

Dr. Andrew S. Erickson is Professor of Strategy in the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute and Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. Erickson is the editor of, and a contributor to, two volumes: Chinese Naval Shipbuilding (Naval Institute Press, 2016) and Proceedings of the 47th History Symposium of the International Academy of Astronautics (Univelt, 2015). He is coeditor of, and a contributor to, eight volumes; including the remainder of the six-volume Naval Institute Press book series, “Studies in Chinese Maritime Development.” The views expressed here are his alone.

Sally DeBoer is serving as the President of CIMSEC for 2016-2017.

Featured Image: Three Type 052D Luyang III guided missile destroyer (DDG), seen here in various stages of construction, are lined together at the Jiangnan Changxingdao Shipyard. (www.hobbyshanghai.com.cn)