From the Azov Sea to the Black Sea: Russia’s Maritime Campaign

By Jonathan Hall

Almost five years following the Minsk Agreements, the war in Ukraine has claimed the lives of over 13,000 individuals. While much of the attention has been on the annexation of Crimea and continuous fighting throughout the Donbas region, Russia has more recently added a maritime component to its campaign with aggressions in the Sea of Azov. The Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov, sees the possibility of the region being used as a “springboard for further expansion,” a land invasion of Mariupol being his greatest concern. While many may fear expansion into the land environment, the far more likely scenario is westward progress by Russian naval forces, furthering their disruptive campaign off Ukraine’s coastline.

Linking the Seas

Western defense planners and analysts often refer to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov as independent entities. Distinct in their own rights, the latter largely unknown until recent events, what is important to note is the Russian government views them as inextricably linked. In 2003, President Putin reiterated this in stating, “the Azov-Black Sea basin as a whole…the zone of our strategic interests.”

Within this context, a useful analytical framework of inspection would be Russia’s “Boa Constrictor Strategy” (Тактика Удава). Attempting to economically strangle the Ukrainian government, the blockade of the Kerch Strait serves as the first example to do so in the maritime environment. Hamstringing shipment to and from the port cities of Mariupol and Berdyansk, located in the Sea of Azov, Russia is likely to continue these economically disruptive and militarily aggressive activities in the greater Black Sea region. The object of such operations would invariably be the littoral waters near Ukraine’s western port city – Odessa. While maintaining the status quo – relative restraint in deploying land forces – the Kremlin could similarly hamper maritime commerce, endanger sea lines of communication (SLOC), and therefore dissuade future investment in the region. Loss of industry and access to the sea via de facto Russian control of the remaining Ukrainian coastline could both financially cripple Kyiv’s economy and, in effect, landlock the country.

Fighting in the Gray Zone: From Land to Sea

Discussions of Russia’s operations often refer to its “gray zone” approach to warfare. Defined as, “Those covert or illegal activities of non-traditional statecraft that are below the threshold of armed organized violence; including disruption of order, political subversion of government or non-governmental organizations, psychological operations, abuse of legal processes, and financial corruption as part of an integrated design to achieve strategic advantage.”

In the Sea of Azov, there are already observed Russian gray zone methods in the maritime domain. Therefore, while the threat of a Russian land invasion should be considered, the threats facing Odessa – and the Ukrainian coastline writ large – likely will remain in the Sea. For several reasons, these incrementally disruptive hostilities, akin to ongoing naval tactics being employed by the Chinese in the South and East China Seas, should be Kyiv’s greatest worry.

First, an overt incursion on Odessa would necessarily involve Russia telegraphing the movement of its Black Sea Fleet – serving as host to a sizeable contingent of sea and land forces. Due to the augmented defensive capabilities installed by the Ukrainian military – its newly developed anti-ship “Neptune” cruise missile and modernized S-125 Neva/Pechora surface-to-air missile system – Kremlin strategists would likely advise against such a move. Although Ukraine’s personnel and equipment in the region would not ensure victory over a would-be invading Russian force, they provide the conventional deterrence required to allay concerns that Moscow believes it can quietly seize the region.

Route of Ukranian vessels seized by Russian vessels in late 2018 near the Sea of Azov (BBC)

Second, despite doubts regarding open invasion, concerns abound that Russia may attempt similarly subversive activities in Odessa to what occurred in Crimea and throughout Donbas. The tactics used in the early years of the conflict – in annexing the Crimean Peninsula and creating the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics – were both geographically and demographically dependent and unlikely to be as successful if applied in western Ukraine.

In Crimea, the Kremlin’s “little green men” were able to assume control without widespread violence due to favorable conditions which do not exist in Odessa. The political environment on the peninsula, conducive for a Russian takeover, hosted a citizenry which was, for the most part, either emboldened by Russia’s sudden presence, indifferent, or silenced by fear.

Throughout Donbas, the disinformation campaign and political saboteurs were able to stoke the flames of discord required to launch the creation of the so-called autonomous republics. With Russian-backed separatists, private military contractors, and Russian regulars all taking part, control was effectively fractured from Ukraine’s federal government.

Geographically proximate to the Russian border, the Kremlin was able to either leverage the political environment preexisting in Crimea or, in the case of Donbas, fabricate one through its disinformation campaign, funding of separatist fighters, and covert transportation of Russian regulars across the border. According to a 2015 study by the International Republican Institute, roughly 25 percent of Odessa’s citizenry are ethnic Russians, with 78 percent citing Russian as the primary language spoken at home. The presence of ethnic Russians, often referred to as a fifth column – or minority group which can be leveraged – in Odessa has sparked concerns that a similar situation which unfolded in the east could be incited. However, the geographic conditions and element of surprise required are missing. Additionally important to note, the general political situation in the country was diametrically different to what it is today. When Crimea was annexed, and subsequent fighting in Donbas began, Ukraine’s federal government was dysfunctional and divided. Following the Euromaidan protests and deposition of then-president Yanukovych, several top officials abandoned their posts. Among them were the Ministers of Defense and Internal Affairs, the commander of the Internal Troops of Ukraine, and the commander of the Ukrainian Navy in Crimea (who convinced over 5,000 Ukrainian sailors to defect with him).

Finally, one possible reason for escalations in the Sea of Azov – Russia’s first major foray into the maritime environment against Ukraine – would be the Kremlin’s decision that further subversion on land would be either impossible due to increased Ukrainian resilience, or inadvisable due to international backlash. Regardless, the fact Moscow has chosen to add this maritime component to continue its incrementally aggressive gray zone approach supports the argument that any activities to Ukraine’s west – a “harder target” in military parlance – would similarly remain offshore.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, after suffering two decades of decline following the collapse of the Soviet Union, has undergone more than a decade of serious reform, doubling its offensive capabilities since 2014. Prior to the annexation of Crimea, Russia had a basing agreement with the Ukrainian government. However, this agreement stipulated categorical limitations on personnel and equipment. Along with access to the port of Sevastopol, Moscow was allowed to garrison 25,000 troops, in addition to 132 armored combat vehicles, 22 military aircraft, and 24 pieces of artillery. In 2013, Russia was stationing 12,000 troops, zero tanks, 24 pieces of artillery, and 22 military aircraft. By 2018, those numbers rose to 32,000 troops, 40 tanks, 174 pieces of artillery, and 113 military aircraft – in addition to S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems, Bastion and Bal coastal defense missile systems, and Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems.

The Fleet, also host to several new advanced surface combatants and submarines – along with many warships transferred from the Caspian Sea Flotilla – is fulfilling the guiding principles highlighted in Russia’s 2015 maritime doctrine: “In the Black and Azov Sea, the foundation of the National Maritime Policy is the accelerated modernization and comprehensive reinforcement of the strategic position of the Russian Federation.”

These tenets were further discussed in the 2017 Naval Fundamentals document, emphasizing improvement of combat capabilities and joint operability with other branches of the military in Crimea. Moscow’s recent development of its Special Operations Forces (SSO) command is the most likely suspect to be used in a combined arms operation in the Black Sea. An example can be seen with the oil derricks near Odessa, which were illegally seized by special operations forces and are subsequently being guarded by several small warships – preventing any attempt by the Ukrainian military to retake them. While a less severe example, this low-risk operation represents one of many lessons for the Kremlin that this sort of incremental approach pays dividends. These “stealth seizures,” i.e. annexation of Crimea, naval blockade of the Sea of Azov, and the capture of the oil derricks are the hallmark of Russia’s approach in the region but by their nature are limited in scope.

Area of Operations: The Black Sea

Unlike the proximate waters of the Sea of Azov, the Black Sea is busy with international activity and with all parties involved interested in keeping the sea lines open for trade and joint military cooperation. In addition to the western littoral states (Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey), the navies of the United Kingdom and United States have operated in the Black Sea in recent months. The Royal Navy’s HMS Echo entered the Black Sea and arrived at Odessa on 19 December, 2017. The UK’s Defense Minister, Gavin Williamson, later announced joint exercises would take place with the Ukrainian Navy in early 2019. In early January, the USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43) made a regularly scheduled sail through the Black Sea. The Fort McHenry, an amphibious ship, equipped with defensively oriented weapons, was followed more recently by a visit to Georgia by the USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer – sending a much more clear message to the Kremlin. Backing up this show of resolve, the U.S. announced it would send additional lethal aid to the Ukrainian military.

While international presence in the region is a possible deterrent, many factors complicate the helpfulness of foreign vessels in the region. First and foremost, there is a perennial question mark in regard to what form(s) of Russian aggression will incite a Western response. And even then, showing diplomatic support of the situation is of little good to an embattled Ukrainian military. Second, the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits, an agreement signed in 1936, presents a logistical impossibility to an ever-present U.S. Navy in the Black Sea. The agreement stipulates that an aggregate tonnage of all non-Black Sea warships in the Black Sea cannot exceed 30,000 tons (or 45,000 tons under special conditions), and they are permitted to stay in the Black Sea for no longer than twenty-one days. Russia, undoubtedly monitoring the U.S. Navy’s days at sea, could conceivably coordinate an operation during a lull of U.S. activity.

Defending Ukraine

The onus of defense, therefore, falls on the Ukrainian military. Prior to the aggressions in the Sea of Azov, for all intents and purposes the Ukrainian Navy lacked a coherent maritime doctrine within the overall military strategy. Suggested to have a “continental mindset,” the greatest cause for concern is always from the next impending land invasion. The most recent example was the build-up of Russian forces in its Western Military District, from which came no invading force. Rather than an abnormal development, prior to the annexation of Crimea, roughly 40,000 troops were amassed on Ukraine’s eastern border – used for purposes of intimidation and to mask subsequent asymmetric operations, rather than to be conventionally deployed.

Despite these issues of threat assessment, the Ukrainian Navy has maintained steady success in developing itself into a competent fighting force, notwithstanding losing the majority of its assets during the annexation of Crimea. The guiding principle toward renewed maritime capacity building in the Ukrainian Navy can be seen in the “mosquito fleet” concept first proposed by Captain Andriy Ryzhenko, the Navy’s deputy chief of staff for Euro-Atlantic integration. His idea is that despite budgetary pressures the navy should plan for “near-term procurement of small, fast, low-signature, well-armed boats and craft for various purposes.” The highly mobile proposed flotilla would serve well in the face of uncertainty presented by Russia’s subversive maritime activities.

Toward this goal, the Ukrainian Navy plans to commission two Gyurza-class armored boats and two Centaur-class fast assault craft sometime in 2019, and to assume command of two U.S.-built Island-class patrol cutters this summer. These efforts toward naval capacity building are the key component of the “New Strategy of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to 2035,” introduced by the Commander of the Naval Forces of Ukraine, Admiral Ihor Voronchenko in November 2018.

Moving Forward

As this gray zone approach continues to permeate the maritime environment, these aggressive asymmetric operations must remain an integral component of Ukraine’s military calculus. They are incremental in their approach, and below the threshold of war in their character. For these reasons they will be difficult to predict, deter, and defend against. However, the Ukrainian military has been and will continue to undergo reform with these very tenets in mind. Analyzing the tactics used in the Sea of Azov by Russia, similar operations in the South and East China Seas by China, and how they may be adapted to fit the Black Sea is the most advantageous starting point toward an effective plan of defense. As the Ukrainian military remains resilient, and its allies supportive, the defense of Western ideals and international rule of law will come through the sober realization that these low-scale acts of force and subversive maneuvers are here to stay both within Ukraine’s borders and off its coast.

Jonathan Hall is a security and political risk analyst focused on Eurasian geopolitics, military affairs, and emerging technologies. He can be found on Twitter @_JonathanPHall.

Featured Image: Military base at Perevalne during the 2014 Crimean crisis. (Wikimedia Commons)

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)

Call for Articles: Unmanned Systems Program Office Launches CIMSEC Topic Week

Submissions Due: April 30, 2019
Week Dates: May 6–May 10, 2019

Article Length: 1000-3500 words
Submit to: Nextwar@cimsec.org

By CAPT Pete Small, Program Manager, Unmanned Maritime Systems

The U.S. Navy is committed to the expedited development, procurement, and operational fielding of “families” of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) and unmanned surface vessels (USVs). CNO Adm. John Richardson’s Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority (Version 2.0) explicitly calls for the delivery of new types of USVs and UUVs as rapidly as possible.

My office now manages more than a dozen separate efforts across the UUV and USV domains, and that number continues to increase. The Navy’s commitment to unmanned systems is strongly reinforced in the service’s FY2020 budget with the launching of a new high-priority program and key component of the Future Surface Combatant Force — the Large Unmanned Surface Vessel (LUSV) — along with the funding required to ensure the program moves as rapidly as possible through the acquisition process. This effort is closely aligned with the Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel (MUSV) rapid prototyping program started in FY19. Mine Countermeasures USV (MCM USV) efforts have several key milestones in FY19 with Milestone C and low-rate initial production of the minesweeping variant and the start of minehunting integration efforts.

U.S. Navy’s unmanned surface vessels systems vision. (NAVSEA Image)

On the UUV side, the ORCA Extra Large UUV (XLUUV) program has commenced the fabrication of five systems that are expected to begin testing in late 2020. The Snakehead submarine-launched Large Displacement UUV (LDUUV) is wrapping up detailed design and an operational prototype will be ready for Fleet experimentation by 2021. Several medium UUV programs continue in development, production, and deployment including Mark 18, Razorback, and Knifefish. So these new and different systems are coming online relatively quickly.

Supporting the established families of UUVs and USVs are a number of Core Technology standardization efforts in the areas of battery technology, autonomy architecture, command and control, and machinery control. While these architecture frameworks have stabilized and schedules have been established, there are still a host of logistical and sustainability issues that the Navy must work through. Most of these unmanned platforms do not immediately align with long-established support frameworks for surface ships and submarines. These are critical issues and will impact the operational viability of both UUVs and USVs if they are not fully evaluated and thought through before these systems join the Fleet.

Here are some of the questions we are seeking to more fully understand for the long-term sustainment and support of UUVs and USVs:

  • Where should the future “fleets” of UUVs and USVs be based or distributed?
  • What infrastructure is required?
  • How or where will these systems be forward deployed?
  • What sort of transportation infrastructure is required?
  • What is the manning scheme required to support unmanned systems?
  • How and where will these unique systems be tested and evaluated?
  • How do we test endurance, autonomy, and reliability?
  • What new policies or changes to existing policies are required?
  • How will these systems be supported?
  • What new training infrastructure is required?

To help jumpstart new thinking and address these questions and many others we have yet to consider, my office is partnering with the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) to launch a Special Topic Week series to solicit ideas and solutions. We are looking for bold suggestions and innovative approaches. Unmanned systems are clearly a growing part of the future Navy. We need to think now about the changes these systems will bring and ensure their introduction allows their capabilities to be exploited to the fullest.

CAPT Pete Small was commissioned in 1995 from the NROTC at the University of Virginia where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering. He earned a Master of Science Degree in Operations Research in 2002 from Columbia University, and a Master of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Naval Engineer Degree in 2005 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is currently serving as Program Manager PMS 406, Unmanned Maritime Systems. 

Featured Image: Common Unmanned Surface Vessel (CUSV) intended to eventually serve as the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) unmanned patrol boat. (Textron photo)

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.