MFP 7: Future Maritime Disputes

What maritime dispute is most likely to lead to armed conflict in the next 5/10/20 years?

This is the seventh in our series of posts from our Maritime Futures Project.  For more information on the contributors, click hereNote: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.

LT Scott Cheney-Peters, USNR:

South-China-SeaI’m going to confine my thoughts here to the most likely to spill over into conflict and save the rest for Question 9. I expect that I will of course get most of this wrong. There’s a reason I’m not a betting man.

0-5 Years:  As we’ve been arguing on this site since last year, the numerous maritime disputes in which China is involved, China’s seeming unwillingness to seek a diplomatic resolution to these disputes, and China’s unilateral moves to change the situation on the ground (sea) means that there is an alarming risk of miscalculation and escalation in any of a number of conflicts (the Senkakus/Diaoyus; the Spratleys, the Paracels, etc). This is not to lay the blame solely in China’s lap, however. The recent (re-)election of Shinzo Abe in Japan at the head of a nationalist LDP government will perhaps be just as unwilling to make concessions in the Senkakus dispute, for example. And as we saw with the protest voyage to the Senkakus of the Kai Fung No. 2, non-state actors can just as easily force a government’s hand. All of this is despite the incredibly complex and large economic ties which bind all of the participants. Further, there is the possibility in any of these conflicts that a “wag-the-dog” component might come into play as the Chinese, Japanese, or another government seeks to distract from political or economic domestic problems through foreign adventurism.

Speaking of which, my runner-up scenario: Argentina vs the U.K., Round II.

5-10 Years:  The collapse of North Korea is something of a continuously looming catastrophe. Any prediction attempting to nail down a date has, of course, thus far been proved wrong. But the likelihood that it will happen at some point and the magnitude of follow-on effects requires robust contingency planning.

The reason I bring it up is that many of these potential follow-on effects dangers involve the possibility of maritime conflict – from a starved North Korea launching a land and sea invasion across the Demilitarized Zone and Northern Limit Line, or a combustible mix of Chinese and South Korean troops flooding into a post-regime North Korea, “disagreeing” over the terms of administration and reconstruction.

In a Naval War College class last year we presented a scenario in which the collapse of the North precipitated a potential humanitarian disaster, prompting a Chinese move across the border to stem the flow and the grave danger of miscalculation leading to conflict between some combination of American, South Korean, Chinese, and ex-regime ground and/or naval forces. We argued contingency planning (and regular multinational Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response exercises) for such a possibility needed to begin now between the U.S., South Korea, and China. More on this will follow in my oft-delayed post “Thinking About Prevention, Part III.” 

Runner-up:  Iran – because, well, the IRGCN sometimes seems like it requires individual units to bring foreign vessels to the point of batteries release as part of a bizarre initiation process.

10-20 Years:  The long-range forces likeliest to lead to maritime conflict in this timeframe and beyond may be urbanization, bringing more people to the cities, and climate change, bringing the seas closer to the cities. These won’t necessarily lead to a specific conflict, but could create a greater possibility of some new forms (in a tactical sense) of maritime insurgencies or require new/improved abilities to fight in maritime urban environments.

Simon Williams, U.K.:
The disputes raging between China and its South East Asian neighbours over islands and influence in the energy reserve rich South China Sea, I believe, has the greatest potential to escalate into armed conflict with many regional powers flexing their military muscles. The standoff also has the potential to draw in other global powers, with America and India waiting in the wings to defend their interests should they deem it necessary. Moreover, options for a diplomatic solution are slowly contracting; last year ASEAN nations failed to agree on a ‘code on conduct’ at the annual summit meeting. Tensions also have the inherent risk of drawing in other powers due to the globally vital trading routes passing through the region. America has already announced an increased focus on the wider Pacific region, a strategic shift which has caused some chagrin in Beijing, which contends the Americans are interfering and in effect staging an attack on China.

The increasing size of the Indian Navy and the ambitions of China to build a credible fleet, demonstrated by the recent launch of their first aircraft carrier, are likely to lead to a further increase in tensions. History demonstrates that two nation’s with large navies and divergent regional interests rarely get along.

LT Drew Hamblen, USN:
The Senkaku Islands, the Spratlys, or Taiwan itself.

Marc Handelman, U.S.:
Unchecked African-based oceanic piracy.
Polar (Northern) national territorial & natural resource exploitation.

Felix Seidler, seidlers-sicherheitspolitik.net, Germany:

Spreading the love
                            Spreading the love.

Definitely the South China Sea, not the Persian Gulf. The Iranian naval threat is over-hyped. The U.S. Navy would sink most of Iran’s vessels within a few hours. However, in the South China Sea, the interests of the U.S., China, and India clash. With rising 1) population numbers, 2) regional economies, 3) nationalism/nation self-confidence, 4) resource demand, and 5) Armed Forces capabilities, armed conflict between two or more states is more likely in the South China Sea than anywhere else. These five points create a dangerous cocktail, because any conflict, from whatever cause, could quickly escalate.

Dr. Robert Farley, Professor, University of Kentucky:
I would not be at all surprised to see conflict between China and one or more ASEAN states over island control and access in the South China Sea. The game is extremely complicated, ripe for miscalculation, and prone to a variety of principal-agent problems. States that don’t want to be in an armed dispute could easily find themselves embroiled if they miscalculate the intentions of others.

Bryan McGrath, Director, Delex Consulting, Studies and Analysis:
Cliché, but one of the ongoing South China Sea scenarios seems most likely.

YN2(SW) Michael George, USN:
Within the next 2 decades, the only legitimate threat from a maritime perspective I can foresee is China. From various disputes with Japan to burgeoning naval capabilities, such as its new aircraft carriers, China seems to be a force to be reckoned with.

LCDR Mark Munson, USN:
I don’t see the various disputes that China has with neighbors in the East and South China Seas as being the seeds for future armed conflict.  One possibility that could snowball into something worse would be the various Persian Gulf states reacting in response to further efforts by Iran to assert its control over the Straits of Hormuz.  My most likely scenario, however, would be a fight between North and South Korea over encroachments across the Northern Limit Line.

Sebastian Bruns, Fellow, Institute for Security, University of Kiel, Germany:
Until 2018:  South China Sea; Strait of Hormuz/Persian Gulf.
Until 2023:  China’s rise (in general); Northwest & Northeast Passage; South America undersea resources; and/or any of the above.
Until 2033:  China’s rise (in general); and/or any of the above.

CDR Chuck Hill, USCG (Ret.):

"Limit Line" is more of a suggestion than a reality.
“Limit Line” is more of a suggestion than a reality.

China and Iran are the most obvious candidates. Today’s Navy seems geared to those threats. Looking elsewhere, we are likely to see some asymmetric conflicts where insurgents attempt to exploit the seas.

China will continue to push its claims in the South and East China Seas by unconventional means, or perhaps we may wake up some morning and find that every tiny islet that remains above water at high tide has been occupied. They are building enough non-navy government vessels to do that. They may also sponsor surrogates to destabilize the Philippines, Indonesia, and other Asian Nations that don’t willingly accept Chinese leadership.

We may also see conflicts:
– in Latin America, e.g. Venezuela vs. Colombia;
– between the countries surrounding the Caspian Sea over oil and gas drilling rights;
– over water resources on the great rivers of Asia.

There are always wars in Africa. They may become more general. Wherever there is both oil and weak governments, there may be conflict – Nigeria and Sudan come to mind. The entire Maghreb is at risk with Libya unstable, an ongoing arms race between Morocco and Algeria, and a growing Al-Qaeda franchise.

Bret Perry, Student, Georgetown University
5 Years:  Nigerian Piracy. Although not necessarily a maritime dispute, this is a serious maritime security issue that could get ugly. Piracy is on the rise again in Nigeria but unlike previous periods of piracy in the country the current episode appears less political and more criminal making it more threatening and difficult to combat.  Although Nigeria does not see as much commercial shipping traffic as Somalia, it still is a significant oil exporter via sea. This, combined with the increase in offshore oil facilities in the area, make piracy a serious threat to the area.

 

Nothing to see here!
                              Nothing to see here!

10 Years:  Persian Gulf Conflict. There is so much military activity among multiple countries in this region that conflict is likely. Although the US Navy and IRGCN have both displayed discipline thus far, if either side makes a mistake, or is pushed by another party, then the Gulf could experience some maritime conflict.

20 Years:  The South China Sea. Tensions in this region between the different parties involved will continue to fluctuate, but it will be some time until China possesses the confidence to decisively act militarily.

LT Alan Tweedie, USNR:
Both Iran and North Korea are unpredictable enough to start an armed conflict which would spill into the sea. The two also have enough land-based anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and ballistic missiles to put AEGIS/BMD to work for its intended purpose. India and Pakistan could also heat up their cold war, although I highly doubt the U.S. would get involved militarily in such a dispute.

LT Chris Peters, USN:
5 Years:  Iranian maritime claims in conjunction with their nuclear development.
10 Years:  North Korea vs South Korea OR China vs Japan re: disputed islands.
20 Years:  Access to Arctic waterways and seabed resources.

CDR Chris Rawley, USNR:
I’ll answer this question in the broader context of defense strategy. The U.S. DoD is making a deliberate pivot to East Asia, but changing global demographics don’t necessarily support such a shift. At the Jamestown Foundation’s recent Terrorism Conference, insurgency-expert David Kilcullen spoke to four global trends:

1) Population growth – By 2050, there will be over 9 billion people on earth. Much of this rapid growth will continue in less-developed regions of the world, with the “youth bulge” more prominent in the Middle East and Africa. Meanwhile the populations of industrialized countries, including China, will remain stagnant, or even shrink.
2) Urbanization – The trend of people moving to cities will continue, especially in Africa and South Asia. Urbanization brings with it higher rates of crime, pollution, and sprawling slums. The problems associated with these issues will often spill outside of a city’s borders, sometimes even becoming transnational.
3) Littoralization – Mega-cities (those with more than 10 million people) appear mostly in coastal regions. Poverty-stricken mega-cities in littoral areas such as Mumbai, Karachi, Dhaka, and Lagos are growing the fastest.
4) Connectedness – People and financial sectors are increasingly linked together globally with networks, cell phones, and satellites communications. These technologies provide constant global reach to anyone, anywhere.

Battlegrounds of the future?
Battlegrounds of the future?

The demographic trends are global, but the first three are most pronounced in coastal Africa and the Indian Ocean rim countries. Kilcullen primarily discussed these trends in the context of al Qaeda’s future. As an example, he believes (as do I) we will see more Mumbai-style attacks, with the terrorists infiltrating from the sea and command-and-controlling their operations in real time with smart phones and social media. But these four trends have greater implications for national security than the terror threat alone. Importantly, they indicate that irregular, people-centric threats will continue to create a disproportionate share of crises most likely to precipitate military intervention. It makes sense to array higher-end forces in areas where higher-end, state-centric threats are possible. But before we realign too much force structure to counter a blue-water fight in East Asia, we should consider that the types of missions these ships have been doing in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf the past two decades is what they will likely continue to do for the next two decades.

Moreover, the trends revalidate the importance of sea power to our nation’s security and support disproportionate defense spending on the Navy/Marine Corps team. From an acquisition stand-point, the Navy will need more platforms and weapons optimized to operate in the littorals and a continued focus on expeditionary logistics. Doctrinally, the Marine Corps will need to develop and practice new concepts for fighting in urban terrain.

LCDR Joe Baggett, USN:
Melting of the Polar Ice caps – Creating a race for claim and sovereignty over resources. Climate change is gradually opening up the waters of the Arctic, not only to new resource development, but also to new shipping routes that may reshape the global transport system. While these developments offer opportunities for growth, they are potential sources of competition and conflict for access and natural resources.

Increased competition for resources, coupled with scarcity, may encourage nations to exert wider claims of sovereignty over greater expanses of ocean, waterways, and natural resources—potentially resulting in conflict.

LTJG Matt Hipple, USN:
In the specific realm of dispute over the maritime domain, as opposed to just armed conflict in the maritime domain (in which case, Iran), the Senkakus are the most likely candidate. It wouldn’t be a full-blown war, but certainly there is a likelihood of shots being fired in misguided anger or accident with the increased level of friction contact between multiple opposing navies and fanatical civilians.

LT Jake Bebber, USN:
If history teaches us anything, it is that the next major conflict will occur in an area we will not expect and involve parties and issues that will surprise us (how many of us could point out Afghanistan on a map on September 10, 2001?). We will likely not be prepared. That being said, if I had to bet money, I would suggest that the maritime dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands is the one most likely to lead to a maritime conflict, drawing in a reluctant United States.

Future Airwing Composition: Unmanned ISR

According to Defense News, the U.S. Navy’s inventory of manned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms – land-based P-3 Orion and EP-3 Aries – will be cut by more than a quarter over the next few years. The current consolidations are not the first time in recent history the Navy has trimmed ISR capability. As late as the 1990s, a typical carrier air wing deployed with a number of organic platforms capable of collecting intelligence, including tactical aircraft such as the F-14 with the Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) and ES-3A Shadows for electronic signals intercept (ELINT). These aircraft were supplemented by a robust ground-based P-3 fleet along with numerous forward-looking infrared (FLIR)- and radar-capable helicopters on smaller cruisers and destroyers. Today’s remaining manned aircraft, such as the venerable, but still effective, P-3s are often found flying over-land missions in support of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. 

BAMS BAMS!
BAMS BAMS!

While the manned P-3 will eventually be replaced by Boeing’s manned P-8A Poseidon, the future of maritime ISR is unmanned.  In the near-term, tactical UAVs such as ScanEagle and Firescout will increase in numbers across the surface fleet.  Although their video can be transmitted over the horizon via satellite links from their launching ships, the shorter range of tactical UAVs generally makes them more appropriate for local reconnaissance operations. The MQ-4C Triton Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) will soon be available to cover theater ISR missions, and eventually, as long-endurance, carrier-based drones are added to the fleet, the equation will tip even more in favor of unmanned ISR assets.

Carrier-based unmanned ISR aircraft will bring unprecedented capabilities to the U.S. Navy after over nine decades of naval aviation.  First, the aircraft will realize high sortie generation rates due to reduced maintenance and pilot proficiency requirements.  Because these aircraft will have much longer endurance than any manned aircraft, fewer planes will be needed to provide on-station ISR, which will be for a longer duration and can cover a larger area of land and sea. RQ-4 Global Hawks (BAMS’ brothers) are already demonstrating these ultra long-range patrols in the Middle East and Western Pacific.

Secondly, wear and tear on airframes will be greatly reduced compared to manned aircraft. Today when a carrier deploys, pilots must fly to remain proficient during the ship’s transit to and from an operating area. These transits can take over a month each way and the hours put on those aircraft during proficiency flights do not directly contribute to operations. The airframes of UAVs will only be flown operationally and not for training, extending their overall lifecycles. Additionally, because drones will not need to be tied to pilots in a squadron for training during transit, at least some of them could be cross-decked from a departing carrier to a new ship rotating into the operational theater (usually Central Command). Cross-decking will produce more operational sorties per aircraft than an equivalent number of manned planes, resulting in a smaller overall required UAV inventory.

Finally, unmanned aviation will eventually result in higher rates of fully mission capable aircraft than their manned counterparts on deployment. When a drone on a deployed aircraft carrier breaks down to the extent it requires depot-level repairs, it can be boxed up in the hangar and another drone can self-deploy within 24 hours from the United States or Europe to the carrier’s forward location to take its place. Drawing from a pool of “just-in-time” spares without worrying about ferry pilots, refueling, and other issues associated with short-range tactical aircraft will make CVNs that much more valuable. 

The Navy has arrived at a critical juncture towards deciding the future of unmanned aviation. The solicitation for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program was delayed from last fall until sometime this spring.   Amy Butler at Aviation Week has discussed the Navy’s internal debates between aspects of survivability, endurance, payload capacity, and stealth. Yet, possibly the most important factor that should be considered in this program is affordability. The price points of the potential UCLASS competitors’ vehicles are publicly unknown, but the assumption might be made that generally a reduced-signature aircraft such as Northrop’s X-47B will drive higher program cost than a less stealthy platform like General Atomics’ Sea Avenger. Of course, as with any aircraft, total cost of ownership for UAVs includes training, maintenance, upgrades, and all ground-based infrastructure. In this area, the Sea Avenger also would likely save the Navy money because of the commonality of its ground control systems, communications networks, and other systems with the now-ubiquitous MQ-1 and MQ-9 aircraft flown by the Air Force and other agencies. If the Navy misfires on this program, at some point unmanned carrier aviation – or possibly carrier aviation writ large – could become unaffordable for the U.S. Navy. Wise choices up front in the UCLASS solicitation could pay big dividends decades from now.

This article was re-posted by permission from, and appeared in its original form at NavalDrones.com.

Who Defeated the Somali Pirates? Another Look

 

Heading home after another long day at work.
                                         Heading home after a long day at the office.

As observers thankfully have noted, piracy off the coast of Somalia dropped significantly over 2012.  As Mark Munson points out, a variety of factors contributed to this decline.  These included an increase in armed guards aboard commercial vessels, continued international naval patrols in the region, attacks by some of those international naval forces on pirate havens, and operations by the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF).  

Yet it would be too easy to write off piracy in the area as a dead issue.  Despite some glaring examples to the contrary, pirates are not uniformly stupid, as demonstrated by the $160 million they made in ransom in a single year.  They are capable of adapting to change in their maritime operating environment.  For example, when the world’s navies began patrolling the area, pirates attempted to disguise themselves as innocent fishermen.  International naval forces reacted by conducting more thorough searches and seizures of suspected pirates, who in turn adapted by using motherships to expand their area of operations beyond the patrol areas.  Despite increasing the transaction costs for both the pirates and international naval forces involved in this conflict, this “tit-for-tat” process did not slow or halt the increase in piracy.

Several analysts believe that the increase in armed private security guards aboard commercial ships in the region played a key role in reducing piracy; at least 40% of commercial vessels in the region had armed guards aboard at the beginning of 2012.  Although armed guards did in fact contribute to the drop in piracy, their dampening effect merely shifted the onus back to the pirates to continue measure/counter-measure evolution.  There’s little to stop them from adapting to this tactical change as they adapted to those that came before, for instance by using more personnel to overwhelm ship defenses, or mounting a stabilized light machine gun to deliver greater and more accurate fire against ships.  Rather, it’s two other factors that have been the main cause of the drop in piracy in Somalia:  attacks on pirate safe havens from the offshore EU task force and more operations by a better trained PMPF. 

 Piracy Mar 2011

In May 2012, EU forces attacked the pirate safe haven Haradhere, one of the largest pirate bases in one of Somalia’s notoriously ungovernable regions.  This was the start of the EU’s counter-piracy targeting pirate safe havens with surgical and extremely precise strikes.  It was also a key development in the region as the first strike ashore by any patrolling international naval forces (with the exception of a handful of hostage rescue missions).  By targeting the pirates at their center of gravity, EU forces were able to damage their logistics and raise the cost of doing business, which in turn disrupted their operations. 

However, these strikes have two main shortfalls.  First, they are difficult to conduct at a high tempo because of the time it takes to locate the strongholds, plan the strikes, and carry them out while ensuring minimum collateral damage; being based afloat only lengthens the timeline.  Second, the surgical requirements for the strikes allow pirates to react by surrounding themselves with even more civilians, making the strikes all the more difficult.    

Unlike the EU’s strikes, the PMPF attacks pirate strongholds from land.  Trained initially by Saracen International/Sterling Corporate Services (which was led by Australian Lafras Luitingh, an experienced intelligence officer with from South Africa), the PMPF are arguably one of the most well-trained paramilitary forces north of Mogadishu.  Although they are still categorized as a backwater paramilitary force, Sterling Corporate Services created this simple force that outclasses its pirate adversaries (however due to behind-the-scenes political moves it is unclear who, if anyone, now trains them).  Consequentially, the PMPF has been able to patrol the littorals in Puntland and attack pirate bases.  Although the PMPF lacks the firepower of the EU task force, they are able to permanently station themselves in areas prone to piracy and use their knowledge of the area to recognize and pursue pirates.  Nevertheless, the PMPF’s main weakness is whether they have the capacity to sustain themselves and their capabilities without foreign funding and guidance from their former trainers. 

Applying These Lessons Elsewhere

The fight to stop piracy in Somalia is not over but lessons learned can be applied to other areas, such as the Gulf of Guinea, where piracy is on the rise.  These lessons are that changing the pirate’s operating environment alone will not eliminate piracy, as the pirates can and will adapt accordingly.  Instead, the problem must be solved on shore by going after the pirate center of gravity—their strongholds—to effectively disrupt their operations.  Although offshore attacks against these strongholds can yield some results, developing a disciplined local paramilitary force with greater capabilities than the pirates will disrupt their operations even more.  Creating such a force in a weak or failed state is difficult and is fraught with the danger of backfiring, but as demonstrated by the PMPF, it is not impossible.  Will the U.S. Navy and other international maritime forces pursue these proactive options in future areas where piracy becomes a problem?  Or will costly international task forces reactively patrolling offshore remain the norm?

Bret is a student at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.  The views expressed are solely those of the author.

MFP 6: The Fleet of the Future

What will your Navy/Coast Guard look like in 5/10/25/50 years, and how is it different from today?

This is the sixth in our series of posts from our Maritime Futures Project.  For more information on the contributors, click hereNote: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.

LT Drew Hamblen, USN:
In 25 years we will not use aircraft carriers.  Manned jets will also be obsolete.  Helicopters will be manned for logistical flights only.  Pods of “gamer-like” unmanned aerial system (UAS) operators will rotate out for round-the-clock patrol and surveillance.

Bryan McGrath, Director, Delex Consulting, Studies and Analysis:

New additions to the hanger bay.
New additions to the hanger bay.

I will take on only the 50-year horizon, and I will start by saying that YES, the aircraft carrier will still be in existence.  Not just because they last for decades, but because of their continuing utility.  At some point in the next two or three decades, we will collectively make the switch to a predominately unmanned carrier air wing.  This will then lead to the construction of a totally new aircraft carrier, one built from the keel up to project unmanned power.  In essence an assembly line whose product is combat power, this vessel would launch (primarily) unmanned platforms on missions, recover them, harness them to an assembly line in which the aircraft receives required maintenance, fuel, new mission planning and new armament—and is then redeployed almost immediately.  Diagnostics would pull aircraft off the line at pre-programmed locations for maintenance that would remove them from the immediate flight cycle.  These aircraft would essentially be a wing, a bomb, fuel, and a computer.  Manned aircraft would fill C2/ABCCC (airborne battlefield) type missions, to include flight following/control of unmanned aircraft of all types.  More combat power will be submerged.  The U.S. mastery of the undersea domain will continue and increase.  Hybrid warships will operate both on and beneath the ocean’s surface.

CDR Chris Rawley, USNR:
I’m bullish on unmanned systems, which will become increasingly pervasive in the U.S. Navy over the next few decades.  Within 10 years, virtually every surface platform from patrol boats to CVNs (aircraft carriers) will carry one or more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).  UAVs in the inventory will likely become more numerous than manned aircraft in the next half-century.  Over a decade of combat has demonstrated that unmanned aircraft are capable of conducting a great many of the missions that have traditionally been performed by manned aircraft, especially scouting and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).  Strike will be the next mission-area to benefit from long-endurance UAVs, then airborne electronic attack (AEA), and eventually air-to-air combat.  The impediments to these changes are more cultural than technical.

The outcome of two programs, in particular, will be critical determinants of whether unmanned surface vessels (USVs) and unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) are introduced into the fleet to the same extent as unmanned air systems.  On the surface side, SAIC’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) is an interesting concept, which if successful, will reverse some of the asymmetry associated with the proliferation of quiet diesel submarines.  On the undersea side, the Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Innovative Naval Prototype (LDUUV INP) will demonstrate whether the physical limitations inherent in unmanned submersible propulsion and endurance can be overcome to produce a useful and flexible combat capability.

Unmanned systems are not a panacea and will never replace the dedicated, capable Sailors that make our navy the most powerful in the world.  These systems and their associated concepts are untested, and it remains to be seen if they can take over, or at least complement, the roles of manned platforms.  Even so, unmanned naval systems will reduce the risk to our Sailors in many mission areas, and if acquired smartly, will realize savings in defense.

LT Scott Cheney-Peters, USNR:
0-5 Years:  Pretty much the same fleet.  More drones and hybrid-electric drives.  It will be interesting to see what direction the U.S. Navy goes with upcoming design selections on new amphibious ships, and even more so with what capabilities they – and the next batch of destroyers – must have.  Most likely the nation’s economic crunch will place the emphasis on modernized versions of what we already know works, but hopefully not at the expense of finding ways to facilitate cheaper upgrades in the future (for example through modularized components).

5-10 Years:  Early afloat experimentations with directed energy/electric weapon systems (DEEWS), especially for ships’ self-defense.  More ships reach the fleet with drone use integrated into their designs.

10-25 Years:  DEEWS starts to be incorporated into ship design.  Drones increasingly play a greater role, not only performing ISR, but many other forward missions.  If battery capacity and non-traditional energy-generation development trends continue, a lot more widely dispersed, self-sustaining drones that can loiter for months or years deploy on and below the waves.    Specialized Arctic drones and Arctic modifications for manned vessels are developed for operations in the opening and warming, but still harsh, far north due to climate change.

 

Are you in my network?
      Are you in my network?

25-50 Years:  Drones start to factor into presence requirements in ship numbers at the beginning of this time frame as manned vessels (surface or subsurface) become primarily motherships/command and control (C2) network nodes.  Additive manufacturing (3D printers) capabilities are integrated into a number of vessels that serve as mobile production facilities.  These might either be larger manned auxiliaries or dispersed aboard the motherships to facilitate drone production.

The large networks of naval drones increase the Navy’s MDA capabilities to an almost unimaginable level during this time, but the missions of maritime interdiction (boarding) operations, ballistic missile defense, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, and of course, showing the flag (good news for waterfront bars worldwide), remain the domain of manned vessels – but they are empowered by their naval drone and mobile production facility capabilities.

In the latter part of this timeframe and beyond, key nodes of unmmaned drone production facilities are located at naval bases and maritime hotspots around the globe and aboard mobile and themselves unmanned and automated.  Some of these may be based on, or tethered to portions of the sea bed that can be exploited using new mining techniques to support the production activities (as well as those aboard vessels with the facilities).  Most manned naval aviation will be over by the end of this timeframe.

One key variable will be whether the militarization of space occurs.  If it does, there will be more emphasis placed on the subsurface drones and undersea production facilities outlined above, as well as a greater push for acceptance of increasing levels of drone autonomy.  In the event of satellite communication disruptions, the network-node motherships can disperse new relay drones to regain control of their network of drones.  For those drone unable to relink to the network the level of autonomy automatically increases upon loss of the connection, allowing the dispersed platforms to continue to carry out their missions.

Rex Buddenberg, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School:
Reread my answer to question 4 – the best clues to a 50-year-ahead question may be found by looking back an equal amount of time.  A lot of the ‘maritime domain awareness’ data exists already.  I’ve seen the yammer about sensors over the years too.  But the extant data is tucked away in some stovepipe.  The big change is that this awareness will increase through integration of information systems.

Sebastian Bruns, Fellow, Institute for Security, University of Kiel, Germany:
“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” (Attributed to, among many other people, Yogi Berra)

The Optimist

2018:  The last of the four new Baden-Württemberg-class frigates is delivered on time and on budget.  Plans for three more frigates are in the making.  The versatile K-131 (MKS 180) corvette is being put into service since 2015.  Eight instead of the planned six vessels are procured.  A marked rise in maritime awareness throughout Germany has led to an increased budget and the establishment of a coordinating position in the Office of the German Federal Chancellor (head of government).  The new, lean German Navy is strongly integrated in international operations and mandates.  It plays a crucial role in regional stabilization operations and actively and visibly supports NATO missions.

2023:  The first of the new Joint Support Ships is already in service, the second is on the building ways.  Plans for the replacement of the F-123 and F-124 frigates are on schedule and on budget.  Seapower has been officially recognized as a key tool for German foreign policy by way of a Quadrennial Defense and Security Strategy.  The new, lean German Navy is strongly integrated in international operations and mandates.  It plays a crucial role in regional stabilization operations and actively and visibly supports NATO missions.

2028:  The Joint Support Ships and Germany’s strong leadership role in NATO’s Pooling & Sharing Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) project have allowed Germany to play a wider role in international expeditionary operations.  Although the threat level for Germany and German maritime units has steadily increased over the past 15 years, no warship has been lost to enemy action.  The new, lean German Navy is strongly integrated in international operations and mandates.  It plays a crucial role in regional stabilization operations and actively and visibly supports NATO missions.

2063:  The German Navy has been fully integrated into a larger North-Central-European Maritime Force.  It plays a crucial role in regional stabilization operations and actively and visibly supports NATO missions.  The effects of climate change have long been added to the toolbox of naval forces.

The Pessimist

Bye Bye Baden
Bye Bye Baden

2018:  The F-125 frigates will be delayed by years.  Budget cuts and the sudden demise of the German shipbuilding industry have led to a dramatic loss of building capacity. Politics demand a very isolationist approach to international politics, and the last of the four Baden-Württembergs is subsequently cancelled.  After more than a decade of development, plans for a corvette of the K-131 (MKS-180) class are scrapped.  Only one unit of the planned eight ships has been delivered.  Facing increasingly scarce resources and questionable political priorities, Germany continues to support a Common European Security and Defense policy, or what is left of it.

2023:  Not a single Joint Support Ship has been delivered after inter-service rivalry and broader political trends have torpedoed the whole program.  Facing a dramatic loss of reputation after years of dragging its feet in dealing with the Euro crisis, Germany has lost all of its influence within NATO.  The F-124 and F-125 are pulled out of ballistic missile defense (BMD) roles in the Mediterranean and elsewhere.  The effects of climate change wreak havoc on many countries and regions of the world.

2028:  The German Navy increasingly returns to being a coastal force, integrated with what remains of an ambitious project to organize a German Coast Guard much like the U.S. model.  The North and Baltic Sea with occasional visits to European allied nations are the major operational tasking.  Germany has pulled out of NATO SNMG-1 (-2).  International maneuvers and exercises largely by-pass Germany.

2063:  In the interest of not ending up writing fictional absurdity, I will choose not to answer this question.  My major fears have all been mentioned in the other three pessimist predictions.

Felix Seidler, seidlers-sicherheitspolitik.net, Germany:
In 5 and 10 years, our navy will not look different from today.  However, the known unknown is the impact of the Euro Crisis.  Ever-more pressure on our federal budget could lead to the cancellation of projects like the Joint Support Ship or the de-commissioning of several surface vessels.  In terms of operations, nothing will change.  Germany will continue to contribute to maritime UN, NATO, and EU missions as it does now, because it is the most palatable way for Germans to show themselves as an active ally.  Contributing ground troops to missions is highly unpopular over here; hence, sending ships is more comfortable for our decision makers.

How our navy looks in 25 years (2037) and in 50 years (2062) depends on the success or failure of European integration.  If the EU handles its economic crisis and, thereafter, pursues a track to deeper integration, our armed forces will gradually integrate further with those of other European countries.  The more European integration in politics, the more integration follows among European armed forces.  However, the huge question mark is the political will among European governments to pool sovereignty on such a level.  At this time it is highly unlikely.

If European integration fails and Europe turns back to the nation state, Germany is likely to give up all blue water ambitions and focus on coastal defense in the North Sea and the Baltic.  In 2060 Germany is projected to be only the 10th largest economy in the world with a population of around 65-70 million (1/3 older than 60).  Thus, due to its demographic and economic decline, Germany is likely to pursue a much-less ambitious foreign and national security policy, and may even be reluctant to use force abroad.  In this scenario, the German Navy may spend most of the time in its shipyards.

CDR Chuck Hill, USCG (Ret.):
Unfortunately the U.S. Coast Guard will not look different enough, if the relatively low level of capital investment continue.  Ships being planned now will not be built for 5-10 years.  The last of the Offshore Patrol Cutters, expected to replace our medium endurance cutters, will not be fully operational until approximately 2029, and all will likely still be in the fleet in 50 years.  The oldest of them will only be 44 years old, younger than ships we are replacing now.

I do believe we will see less distinction between search aircraft and rescue aircraft.  Other systems are likely to replace the pure search functions of our fixed wing aircraft, while rescue aircraft will gain greater speed and range as they employ newer technology.  Hopefully in 25 years we will see a new generation of rescue aircraft that have sufficient range and speed to eliminate the separate requirement for long-range search aircraft.

There will also, hopefully, be more information-sharing with other agencies, including comprehensive vessel tracking.

LTJG Matt Hipple, USN:
I can’t imagine.  Drones and missiles versus potential laser-based kill systems and airborne reflectors for over-the-horizon (OTH) interception or deflection.  Ships of increased size due to fuel and power draws for laser systems, if they work, coupled with a mass of smaller automated ships.  Autonomy all depends on what our level of acceptance is for the independence of the machine versus the level of risk we’ll accept from interference, interception, and hijacking.  Of course, perhaps it’ll merely be a pile of rusting LCSs hiding in Singapore.

YN2(SW) Michael George, USN:
I see the U.S. Navy as a little more contracted from what it is today.  With other country’s navies growing, they will want to control their own waters surrounding their country and not as easily permit the United States to do so.  This will impact the size of our fleet overall.

LCDR Mark Munson, USN:
If I’m being cynical, I’m not really sure that the future U.S. Navy won’t just be an incrementally better version of today’s fleet (probably smaller due to fixed/smaller budgets and cost growth, and without any major changes in strategy calling for a drastically different kind of fleet).  The current focus on Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) will hopefully bear fruit in a fleet that is stealthier, capable of striking from greater range, and has a better ability to detect threats and manage that command and control/threat data within an afloat task force.

LT Jake Bebber, USN:
The signs are clearly pointing to a smaller U.S. Navy, despite the growth in worldwide maritime commitments.  We are already at our smallest point in the last hundred years and show no signs of reaching our goal of a 313-ship Navy anytime soon.  The Navy faces a choice on force structure:  we can attempt to mitigate our smaller size by improving the quality of our limited number of platforms (which are becoming ever more expensive), or we can rethink how we fulfill our maritime mission by producing more platforms with more limited capabilities.  A smaller force demands that we will not have a presence in many areas of the world, and our influence there will wane.  We have to accept that.  Or we can rethink our platforms’ design and mission to mitigate costs and allow the U.S. to maintain a maritime presence in regions critical to national security.  We will have to accept the commensurate risk associated with platforms with more limited (and less costly) capabilities.

Anonymous, USN:
The U.S. Navy will be smaller and weaker at the rate that budgets and policies are going.  Just the other day I openly questioned whether or not we’ll be able to call America’s Navy the finest Navy in the world in 10, 25, or 50 years.

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.

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