The DC region was invaded by naval demonstration drones with varying degrees of impact. Northrop Grumman’s X-47B UCAS-D (Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator), the drone designed to launch from carriers and begin the replacement of manned fighter jets, made its way cross-country to Naval Air Station Pax River in Maryland after successfully completing its first major phase of testing. En route it rounded DC’s beltway and, as in other places it was seen by the public, it sparked some humorous befuddlement.
Earlier in the week another U.S. Navy drone demonstrator at Pax River made a more literal impact into Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This was an RQ-4A BAMS-D (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator), a modified version of the Air Force’s Global Hawk, and one of only two of the “A” variants. As the linked AOL Defense article points out, Northrop Grumman has continued to make major improvements with the more advanced “B” and “C” variants.
CGBlog has a good run down and analysis of the Coast Guard’s future shipbuilding plan, including the views of a just-released GAO report. If you’re not familiar with the debates, this a good chance to get caught up on the future of another service with a global impact on maritime security.
As part of the EU presidency trio program, Cyprus will become the new leader of the EU council on 01 July for a 6-month term. This may seem trivial to maritime security enthusiasts until they consider the historical tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the recent oil exploration discoveries in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Since the 1974 Greek coup d’ etat and subsequent Turkish invasion the island has been hotly contested between the two mediterranean powers. This has resulted in an isolated Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), completely reliant on the Turkish mainland, the only country to recognize the TRNC as a sovereign state. Turkey is also a non-signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and continues to contest demarcation agreements as it supports the occupied Northern Cyprus.
As the Turkish Navy patrols the Eastern Mediterranean, it will be interesting to see how new Cypriot leadership within the EU addresses maritime security and the prominence of EU Naval Force Somalia. With continued rotations of EUNAVFOR ships to the Horn of Africa, the cyclical transits through the Suez Canal begs for EU presence while en route. Although unlikely, if presence operations were to increase in the immediate vicinity of Cyprus, EU warship commanders would be challenged by:
Patrol boundaries, sensitive to avoid escalating tensions with Turkey
The immediate vicinity of Syria’s EEZ.
Acknowledging Southern Cypriot’s EEZ. Doing so simultaneously challenges Israeli maritime claims that spill over into Lebanese and Cypriot waters.
Sprints to claim oil and gas exploratory rights will not improve the cloudy Eastern Med. geo-political situation without UN involvement and agreed-upon EEZ boundaries. Until such a resolution we can only expect increased tensions. On July 1st, Cyprus is dealt a fresh set of cards, we can only sit back and see what hand is played. More to follow.
A.J. “Squared-Away” is a husband, father, and U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer.He has deployed on patrol boats, destroyers, and aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, and aboard Iraqi oil terminals. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.
If you weren’t in Virginia Beach, Virginia for the U.S. Navy’s Navy Warfare Development Command Junior Leadership Innovation Symposium earlier this month, you might have read LCDR BJ Armstrong’s posts on the career of Rear Admiral William Sims at the U.S. Naval Institute Blog, here, here, and here.
However, if you’re like me and functionally illiterate, you’ve been missing out. Well no longer! The videos are now available:
My friend BJ has also invited commentators to “talk about how goofy I looked trying to talk to a circular room. What was Shakespeare thinking with the “in the round” stages?” Fire away.
In 2016 America’s 50-year lease on the island of Diego Garcia expires. Under the current terms of the agreement, the option to extend leasing rights for a further 20 years must be agreed upon by both the U.S. and Diego Garcia’s owner, Britain, no later than December 2014. On June 8th, likely spurred on by the looming deadline, the prime ministers of both Britain and Mauritius met to discuss the future of the island. At issue is the question of sovereignty.
Mauritius, located 1200 miles to Diego Garcia’s southwest, is typically grouped into African international associations and has only tenuous connections with Diego Garcia’s Chagos Archipelago. Prior colonial rulers Britain and France at various times lumped the island chains together administratively. Once it became a self-governing colony in 1959, Mauritius retained control of the Chagos archipelago until it sold the islands back to Britain in 1965, the same year Mauritius voted for complete independence. Britain then proceeded to depopulate the newly formed British Indian Ocean Territory, sending (both voluntarily and not) the approximately 2,000 inhabitants to the Seychelles and Mauritius, to make room for an American military build-up.
Now, it appears there is a good chance Britain may transfer sovereignty back to Mauritius to extract itself from the fallout of forthcoming legal rulings. Originally I wasn’t going to post on this situation because, while interesting, I didn’t feel the saga was likely to change much of the Asia-Pacific’s strategic make-up. However, a couple widely read maritime blogs and a National Review Online article have sounded alarms over fears raised by The Guardian‘s coverage of the topic. Namely, the assumption that if the British give up their sovereignty the Americans will lose their ability to use the base for strategic Pacific purposes (no irony intended).
This fear is misplaced for a couple of reasons. First, Mauritian Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam has taken pains to assure Washington that while “The objective of 2014 is to reassert sovereignty,” there is “without question” a need for the West to maintain a base on Diego Garcia. And there’s reason to believe him. There’s little other economically profitable activity the island and surrounding waters can sustain. In all cynical likelihood, the great interest Mauritius has taken in “regaining” control of Diego Garcia is precisely to be the recipient of American rent for its operations there.
Second, setting aside the moral issues stemming from the deportations, upcoming legal rulings at the U.N. and E.U. Court of Human Rights might force Britain’s hand if it holds on to the islands (although the matter of enforcing the ruling might leave its effects in limbo). If Mauritius gains control over the archipelago, a ruling in favor of the Chagossians could be mitigated by the powers Mauritius exerts over its own citizens, forcing them to accept additional compensation in exchange for perhaps occasional visits, or a token designated area of inhabitation.
Third, strengthening ties with Mauritius fits in to the strategic architecture not only in the Asia-Pacific, but also for the western Indian Ocean and Africa. As a democracy with a strong Western tilt and Indian ties, Mauritius represents a stable base from which to make inroads into critical areas along maritime trade routes. In a further act of signaling to reassure, Prime Minister Navichandra took the opportunity of visiting Downing Street to also sign an anti-piracy agreement with the U.K., opening up Mauritius as a destination for the prosecution and jailing of pirates. For its part, the U.S. has good relations with the country and helps to train its military in counter-terror and other missions.
In some regards the Cassandras of the Chagos are right to worry about the outcome. It’s hard to imagine a more ideal military outpost and waypoint than the current setup at DG: no neighbors to complain about the noise or pry into operations, cheap pay for imported labor, excellent diving (if you don’t mind the sharks). The only real drawback is perhaps its slightly too-distant location from hot spots in Southeast and Northeast Asia, but it can’t be everywhere at once. If Mauritius does come into ownership, the U.S. may pay more for its continued use of the basing, pay more for labor and have to hire former islanders or their descendents, and put up with a few inhabitants and the complications that they bring. All in all, however, such changes would be mostly superficial.
Yes, Mauritius could always change its mind on basing rights in the future. But there’s not yet cause for alarm.
LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.