What is International Maritime Security?

Navies are expensive.  In the case of the U.S. Navy, they’re really expensive.  A quick review of the SIPRI world defense spending database shows over 40 coastal nations whose entire defense budget would not buy a single Arleigh Burke-class destroyer at 2011-2012 prices.

“Perhaps we could try car-sharing?”

Many of us who read and contribute to this forum are professionals in Maritime Security.  As such, we tend to take for granted the importance of Navies and the positive role that Navies play in the international system.  We have been conditioned to believe that Navies are worth the cost.  But looking at the disparity in naval spending among maritime nations, it seems that not all nations share the same view of the relative dollar value of maritime security[i].  In an era of sharply declining defense budgets, and a maritime strategy that, while it places warfighting first, places heavy emphasis on the cooperative and international nature of maritime power, it’s worth asking whether navies are, in fact, cooperating in pursuit of a common goal.  If so, what is that goal?  The question, as suggested by the title of this forum, is: What exactly is “international maritime security?”

Security itself is a dependent concept.  It’s not enough to say that a country is secure.  It must be secure from something or someone.  A reasonable working definition of maritime security might be “freedom from the risk of serious incursions against a nation’s sovereignty launched from the maritime domain, and from the risk of successful attack against a nation’s maritime interests.”  In the absence of a specified threat, how much “security” a nation needs to defend against those incursions or attacks is speculative, at best.  That makes the problem of defining international security more challenging—in order to be international, both the interests and the threat must be held in common by two or more nations.  And, while an interest and threat held in common by just two nations might be international in the strictest sense of the word, the connotation of “international security” is of interests held widely throughout the international community.

Some naval missions seem to be inherently international and cooperative.  Securing sea lines of communication is a great example.  In the introduction to the U.S. maritime strategy, the authors gravely proclaim that, “Our Nation’s interests are best served by fostering a peaceful global system comprised of interdependent networks of trade, finance, information, law, people, and governance.  We prosper because of this system of exchange among nations, yet recognize it is vulnerable to a range of disruptions that can produce cascading and harmful effects far from their sources.”  Sure, maintaining the security of this global system serves our own interests, but we are quick to point out that in doing so, we are helping the interests of others, too.

Although we in the U.S. Navy are proud of our role keeping the oceans safe for commerce, many other nations might reasonably ask, “safe from what?”  Piracy is certainly one example, but does it justify the cost of a Navy?  The global economic cost of maritime piracy has been estimated at $7 billion – $12 billion annually.  Somali piracy in particular was more recently estimated at $7 billion annually.  In contrast, the U.S. Navy budget alone is about $160 billion per year.  With numbers like that, it’s difficult to make the economic case that Navies are a good answer to piracy, even when the human cost of piracy is factored in.  About 3,800 seafarers were attacked and 35 killed by pirates in 2011.  Sticking to water-related hazards, this pales in comparison to the 9,000 bathroom fatalities in the U.S. alone in 1999.

One answer to this critique has been to assert that other nations are free to define their maritime security narrowly because the U.S. defines maritime security broadly.  According to this argument, the U.S. as a global maritime power must maintain open sea lanes all around the world; other nations, especially those whose trade ties are mostly regional, can hitch a free ride on our security at a fraction of the cost.  Such a critique has an intuitive appeal, but it can’t be proved, since to do so would require a definitive measurement of the economic and human costs of the absence of U.S. efforts.  Nevertheless, some version of the free rider argument is at the heart of many calls for increased defense burden sharing, and the desire to have other nations pick up at least a portion of the tab for “low-end” missions that are perceived to benefit all nations, rather than serving strictly U.S. interests.

The Prisoner Fisherman’s Dilemma

The parable of the tragedy of the commons offers an interesting perspective on free-riding, burden sharing, and international maritime security.  Writing in 1968 in the journal Science, biologist Garrett Hardin suggested that when there is a public resource—a commons—which is limited and diminished by use, but can be used by individuals without marginal usage cost, each individual will tend to increase their use (grazing herds in his example) until the resource itself is exhausted.  According to this view, which has great traction in economic circles, each person expects to derive greater benefit from increasing their own use rather than showing restraint, since they expect their neighbors to likewise show no such restraint.  If the commons are going to be depleted anyway, why not get mine?  It is in such a situation that free riding becomes both possible and problematic.  When a wealthy neighbor takes the time and money to fence off parts of the pasture and let it recover, everyone benefits; however the wealthy neighbor alone bears the cost, not only of the restoration efforts, but also of the outrage from their fellow cattlemen that they violated the concept of the commons by fencing it off.    The wealthy neighbor does have some recourse: to begin with, because he is caring for the resource itself, rather than just his own herd, he has a legitimate moral claim against his fellow cattlemen; depending on his own pain threshold, he may try to make good on that claim by withholding his public service (whether in the fenced off area or more widely) until his neighbors begin to pay their share.  Pursuing that course, however, comes with a risk—if he’s not willing to bear the pain of seeing the commons fall into disrepair, his neighbors may effectively call his bluff and he will go back to caring for the public good out of his own pocket.  To many, this seems an apt metaphor for the predicament of the U.S. in security affairs.

The oceans are often described as a “maritime commons;” is there a corresponding “tragedy of the maritime commons?”  Yes and no.  One of the key aspects of Hardin’s metaphor is that the resource itself is limited and diminished by use.  Global commerce has no limiting feature, and while the sea lanes may become more crowded, they are no less available if more trade takes to the seas.  Since the resource itself is not diminished or threatened by use, U.S. efforts to secure the sea lanes are not really efforts to secure the commons, but to protect U.S. interests in the form of trade.  While other nations may benefit from this, we would do it whether they benefited or not.  In such a case, the international aspect of our maritime security interest is purely coincidental.  We may be happy or unhappy with the level of help from other nations, but we have no leverage to encourage them to give more or less.

Fisheries protection, on the other hand, is an example of an international maritime security interest where the tragedy of the commons has been very real and very costly.  According to a study funded jointly by the UK government and the Pew Charitable trusts, illegal fishing costs between $10 and $23 billion annually.  These figures, comparable to piracy in scope, often have an immediate impact on the lives of local populations, and at least one study has suggested that fishery depletion from illegal fishing is a contributing cause of maritime piracy.

Missions like fisheries protection aren’t terribly sexy.  In the U.S., we have normally assigned these missions to NOAA or Coast Guard personnel.  For many other nations, however, this is a central Navy mission.

Seeking common ground in international maritime security is good practice, not only from an economic perspective, but also because it increases our understanding of regional partners and problems, potentially affording the opportunity to stop an emerging crisis before it ever develops.  But our definition of international maritime security must go further than, “other navies do the same things we do, and help foot the bill.”  If the USN is to meaningfully pursue international maritime security we must seek out areas where we truly share common interests, common threats, and common resources.

CDR Doyle Hodges is a Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy. He has commanded a rescue and salvage ship in the Pacific and a destroyer in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Middle East.  He is the Chairman of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Seamanship and Navigation Department. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or the U.S. Naval Academy.


[i] For more accurate comparison of the relative value each country places on security, it is more useful to compare defense expenditure as a percentage of GDP, as found here than total outlay.  While the CIA does not break out naval expenditures separately, total defense spending serves as a useful, though not perfect, proxy.

Italian Helicopter Takes Fire from Pirates

An Italian Navy Agusta Bell 212

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

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

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

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

Operation Atalanta flaghship ITS San Giusto

Interview with BlueSeed CFO, Sam Bhagwat

SeaSteading makes for great theorizing. It is an idea that has yet to be sullied by the unfortunate limitations of reality. However, while we policy types talk, others are doing the actual work to turn dreams into reality. Sam Bhagwat, the CFO of BlueSeed, and his partners are on the ground floor of the flagship attempt at real-world seasteading. I had the chance to virtually sit down with him on Wednesday, getting an on-the-ground perspective of the attempt to build a 1000 person seastead off the coast of Silicon Valley. We talk about the law, future communities at sea, seasteading’s international appeal, and his personal drive to be involved.

Download: Sam Bhagwat BlueSeed Interview
Time: 50:47

Sam Bhagwat
BlueSeed
Chief Financial Officer
LT Matthew Hipple, USN
CIMSEC
Director of Operations

Dual-Use Drone Swarms

 

Weaponizing individual drones is just the beginning…

By Chris Rawley

Last winter over at Information Dissemination, I made the observation that swarming robots will irreversibly transform warfare, and I hold to that argument.  The discussion and progress in this area is developing quickly.  Much of this conversation involves non-military uses for drone technology, but as with many tools, there are also applications for warfare.  A host of militarily useful scenarios can be envisioned to employ very small unmanned naval platforms in a non-lethal fashion.

In the videos below, quadrotors are used to perform simple construction tasks. The technology that is today viewed as modern performance art could some day be utilized to build an expeditionary forward operating base remotely.  A C-130 would fly over a likely FOB site and deploy hundreds of UAVs, which would quickly go to work filling Hesco Barriers and building fighting positions all night long based on a pre-programmed design, a scoop of sand at a time.  Out of power, the drones could then land on the FOB and relay observations to the incoming troops. The site would be defensible as soon as the first Marines arrived, leaving Sea Bees for more valuable construction projects.

 

Researchers in the UK are developing autonomous vehicles which will replace the tedious role of scuba divers who painstakingly seed damaged coral reefs.  The alternative being worked is to allow “multiple small autonomous robots following a simple set of rules and seeking out coral fragments and re-cementing them to the reef.  But first the robot needs to be driven by a computer ‘trained’ to recognise coral fragments from other objects such as rocks, litter, sponges and other sea creatures… The swarm of autonomous underwater robots will operate according to a simple set of ‘micro-rules’ to seek out coral fragments and re-cement them to the reef.”

A swarm of nano-UUVs similarly equipped as the “coralbots” could quietly infiltrate an enemy naval port and use sensors and algorithms to recognize seawater intakes on ships.  These intakes are indispensable on just about every vessel and are used for heat exchangers cooling engines and various pumps, to make fresh water for the crew, and to propel water-jet equipped ships like the LCS.  The UUVs could inject a combination of mud or sand scooped up from the harbor with epoxy into these intakes, effectively rendering the fleet useless and unable to get underway.  A similar attack could gunk up the intakes to power plants, refineries, and other coastal infrastructure.

 

The idea of drones mimicking insects might have other applications.  Like bees or fire ants who can subdue a much larger predator, disposable micro-UAVs – too small to defeat with CIWS or other weapons systems – might swarm an Aegis combatant, each spraying a tiny amount of radar absorbent paint on the SPY array, achieving a mission kill of the most powerful air and missile defense system in the world. 

Of course, these sorts of aerial swarms might be vulnerable to jamming, EMP, and the like, but here, LT Matt Hipple offers some recommendations to build resiliency into drone swarms.  The rapid evolution of drone swarm technology can be expected to continue until concepts like these are deployed operationally; likely sometime in the next decade.

This article was re-posted by permission from NavalDrones.com

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.

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