Tag Archives: Counter-Piracy

Gulf of Guinea Maritime Security in 2016

By Dirk Steffen

2016 witnessed a marked increase in maritime security incidents over the previous year, irrespective of the counting standards. Denmark-based Risk Intelligence counted 119 verified attacks by criminals on all kinds of vessels in West Africa (Senegal to Angola) – compared with 82 in 2015. The vast majority of attacks in 2016 were perpetrated by Nigerian criminals, including all of the 84 that were concentrated in and around Nigerian waters.

However, as alarming as such figures may seem, 2016 was neither unusually busy nor were there any significant changes to the patterns of maritime crime in West Africa, specifically the Gulf of Guinea, when assessed in the long term. Over a 9-year period (since 2007), the average number of maritime security incidents for West Africa is 122 – typically ranging between 80 and 140 per year. Of this figure, Nigerian waters alone account for an average of 87 attacks per year.

Annual pirate and piracy-related attacks against shipping in West Africa (Senegal to Angola) 2007-2016. (MaRisk by Risk Intelligence)

Throughout this period, maritime kidnappings steadily increased and focused almost exclusively on Nigerian waters. Since 2013, maritime kidnappings have accounted for around 30 percent of all attacks (including failed attacks) off Nigeria. In 2016, most successful kidnappings were concentrated in two cycles of attacks: the first in January to mid-May 2016 (mirroring almost exactly the development of 2013), the second in the last two months of the year. Hijackings, a common feature during the MEND insurgency in the Niger Delta between 2006-2009, and again during the period of tanker hijackings between late 2010 and 2013, have all but stopped, following the successful intervention of the Nigerian Navy against the hijackers of the tanker MAXIMUS in February 2016.

The real strategic concern for the Nigerian government in 2016 was the resurgent Niger Delta insurgency. It was spearheaded by a group called the “Niger Delta Avengers,” whose campaign of oil and gas infrastructure disruption reduced the Nigerian oil output to a historic low of 1.1m barrels per day (bpd) (vis-à-vis the projected 2.2-2.4m bbpd and the average 1.75m bbpd on average in 2015) during the summer of 2016. One impact on maritime security was the disruption of crude oil loading and an increased demand for petroleum products (due to Nigerian refineries being cut off from their crude oil supplies), thus creating, at least in theory, a more target-rich environment. However, the dynamics of maritime insecurity in Nigeria are historically driven by other factors. As the insurgency went through its customary cycles of issuing threats, militant action, and “cease-fires” to regroup and reiterate demands, the maritime security situation displayed an inverse correlation: the spate of attacks reminiscent of the first 4 months of 2013 swept across the seas off the Niger Delta between March and mid-May 2016, followed by a lull as militant groups were actively engaged in onshore violence throughout the summer. Offshore attacks returned to the waters outside the Niger Delta in November and December 2016 because of calmer weather, cyclical pre-Christmas criminal activity, and lower onshore militancy. This pattern suggests that at the tactical level, the “attackers” ,when not employed in militancy, oil theft, illegal bunkering or gang warfare, engage in piracy to cover some of their funding needs.

The wider Gulf of Guinea was less affected by these developments than it was when the tanker hijackings originating from Nigeria peaked in 2011-12. While the capability to enforce security even in very limited parts of their territorial waters remains constrained for some nations, like Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Liberia or Sierra Leone, organized piracy has not really taken hold in any of those places. In Guinea-Conakry, however, members of the armed forces are engaged in armed robbery at sea and extortion of foreign fishing vessels, even in neighboring Sierra Leone. Ghana experienced a spate of petty thefts at Takoradi anchorage, which gave it some bad press, but no violence against crews was reported. By and large, when speaking of “Gulf of Guinea piracy” as a problem for international shipping, it is Nigerian piracy that we mean. Other forms of maritime crime, on the other hand, such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU), smuggling of oil, drugs, agricultural products and other goods were – and are – the more pressing day-to-day challenges for coastal nations in the region.

Piracy and maritime security incidents in the Gulf of Guinea (Ivory Coast to Gabon) in 2016. (MaRisk by Risk Intelligence)

It is important to understand that many acts of Nigerian “piracy” also have a hidden context that the uncritical reporting in the international press is unaware of. Locally trading product tankers are often attacked, and crew members kidnapped or cargo stolen, as a part of criminal “turf” wars or other disputes between criminal parties. The kidnapping of crew members from fishing (and refrigerated cargo) vessels is often related to extortion within the criminal business of illegal fishing and transhipment of catch. This may, for example, have been the case on 27 November 2016, when the SARONIC BREEZE was attacked 80 nm off Cotonou. The Panama-flagged vessel, according to the Benin Navy, was in a different place than where it should have been (at the anchorage) when it was attacked and three crew members kidnapped.

Regional Cooperation

Against this slightly disconcerting backdrop, there is the gradual increase of political will and ability by some West African nations to take ownership of maritime security. Following the successful rescue of the MAXIMUS, the Nigerian Navy launched Operation ‘Tsare Teku’ in the face of intense pirate activity, and prolonged the operation throughout summer, while being engaged in counterinsurgency operations at the same time. While the impact of the operation was assessed as modest even by Nigerian planners, it demonstrated that the Nigerians were, for the first time, publicly owning up to the problem of maritime piracy emanating from their country. More recently, the flag officer commanding the Eastern Naval Command, Rear Adm. James Oluwole, quite rightly pointed out that the lack of prosecution reduced any effectiveness the Navy might have in the battle against maritime criminals.

Naval police stand guard as suspected pirates are paraded aboard a naval ship after their arrest by the Nigerian Navy at a defense jetty in Lagos, August 20, 2013. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye)

The lack of prosecution, and in many cases the lack of legislation that permits prosecution of pirates, is still one of the shortfalls of the implementation of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct as it came under review in mid-2016, when its initial three-year trial period ended. Information sharing, maritime domain awareness, and maritime law enforcement capacities and capabilities vary sharply throughout the region, and are by and large wholly insufficient, although measurable progress has been made in all fields. Nigeria, as the main country of origin for serious criminals in maritime piracy, is in the process of passing a law that will allow it to prosecute pirates who had hitherto gone unpunished or were indicted for lesser crimes.

The Role of Private Maritime Security

Gulf of Guinea states remain wary of private security solutions, yet various models of private-public security partnerships exist in the region. In Benin and Togo, both navies operate “secured anchorages,” in addition to providing embarked teams of navy troops through agents and local security companies. In Ghana and Cameroon, naval or, in the case of Cameroon’s Battalion d’Intervention Rapide (BIR), army protection can be obtained through direct liaison with those nations’ militaries.

The most unusual arrangement though has evolved in Nigeria. Although various models have been employed by security companies and shipping companies, not always with authorization by the Nigerian government, the pre-eminent security solution is the security vessel or patrol boat. Security vessels have a long history that date back to the early 2000s, when the first armed unrest spread onto the creeks and off the Niger Delta. Typically, the security vessels of that era were ordinary offshore support vessels with four to six embarked soldiers. These vessels were (and still are) predictably ineffective against groups of heavily armed attackers, who engage with two to three large speedboats, often with one or two general purpose machine guns between them.

Converted offshore service vessels with improvised firing positions, like these two fast crew and supply boats at Borokiri (Port Harcourt), form the bulk of Nigeria’s privately contracted “auxiliary” navy. (Dirk Steffen)

The model of choice though, originally conceived at the height of the Niger Delta insurgency between 2006 and 2009, was for private companies to supply and maintain patrol boats, which would be put at the disposal of the then dysfunctional Nigerian Navy. When not on military business, those vessels and their Nigerian Navy gun crews with mounted weapons and ammunition would be available for protection missions for commercial clients. Sixteen Nigerian companies entered such an agreement with the Nigerian Navy in 2016 under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), effectively providing the bulk of offshore oil field security, and increasing the amount of merchant vessel protection in- and outbound from Nigerian ports. A privately operated joint venture also manages the secure anchorage off Lagos, the only such dedicated area in the region officially promulgated on admiralty charts.

More than 100 such privately contracted security vessels are in operation in Nigerian waters. No one knows the exact number – not even the Nigerian Navy. The quality of these vessels varies – ranging from purpose-built law-enforcement and patrol boats to hastily converted offshore support vessels (or vessels with embarked troops only.) While this contractor fleet provides a welcome relief for the Nigerian Navy, which has only a few assets capable of patrolling the exclusive economic zone, it also presents a major headache for the Nigerian Navy’s operations department to monitor the activities of these contracted patrol boats and supply men, weapons, and ammunition to them and ensure compliance with the terms of the MoU.

NNS GBEDE, a privately contracted patrol boat, returns to Port Harcourt from sea trials on the Bonny River (Nigeria). These boats are examples of the type of vessels envisaged by the Nigerian Navy’s Memorandum of Understanding with private maritime security companies. (Dirk Steffen)

The document envisages a partnership between the Nigerian Navy and the private companies for maintenance, training, welfare, and information sharing, thus leveraging the Navy’s “investment” in terms of hard-to-get trained personnel and weapons into the public-private partnerships. Unfortunately, most companies appear to consider the partnership as an “optional” element of their relationship with the Navy. This is compounded by commercial and contractual pressures that preclude many security vessels from rendering assistance to attacks or incidents other than those involving their clients. Unless the MoU is enforced more rigorously, it is therefore unlikely that anyone except for a handful of commercial clients with sufficiently deep pockets will benefit from this arrangement.

Conclusion

Despite the brief surges of offshore piracy in 2016, the Gulf of Guinea remains “business as usual” in terms of maritime security, with incidents in Nigerian waters or emanating from Nigeria accounting for the lion’s share of incidents. For the other West African countries, with a few exceptions, piracy is persistent, but one of the lesser problems in a region characterized by weak maritime governance.

For Nigeria, 2016 was one of the hardest years since the county’s return to democracy in 1999, politically and economically. While the “Niger Delta Avengers” failed to incite a broad-based insurgency in the Niger Delta, their pinpoint targeting of critical oil and gas infrastructure in the Niger Delta was more effective than MEND ever was in that respect; even the temporary loss of control of considerable territory in the northeast to Boko Haram in 2013-14 was strategically less significant.

The onshore security situation in the Niger Delta had a direct impact on the maritime security situation in Nigerian waters and the wider Gulf of Guinea. The seesaw between onshore violence and surges of offshore piracy underlines that while Buhari and his government have made some inroads against the “godfather” system, the latter is far from defeated. It continues to bind criminal, economic, and political interests in Nigeria together. Nigeria will thus remain the nexus for organized crime in western Africa and any regional efforts can only contain the maritime element of this threat until the problem is solved in Nigeria.

Private maritime security will likely remain the (expensive) sticking plaster to fix the situation for commercial ship operators in the short term. However, few of the models in use, short of purpose-built and suitably armed patrol boats, are likely to provide any meaningful deterrent against Nigerian pirates in particular, who are both capable and willing to overcome armed resistance. Except for Ghana and Cameroon (where the use of naval/army assets for commercial purposes is severely circumscribed), none of the “private” or public-private maritime security solutions is likely to enhance the scarce maritime security assets and capabilities of the West African nations.

Dirk Steffen is a Commander (senior grade) in the German Naval Reserve with 12 years of active service between 1988 and 2000. He took part in the African Partnership Station exercises OBANGAME EXPRESS 2014, 2015 and 2016 at sea and ashore for the boarding-team training and as a Liaison Naval Officer on the exercise staff. He is normally Director Maritime Security at Risk Intelligence (Denmark) when not on loan to the German Navy. He has been covering the Gulf of Guinea as a consultant and analyst since 2004. The opinions expressed in this article are his alone, and do not represent those of any German military or governmental institutions.

Featured Image: A Nigerian Marine Police checkpoint on the Bonny River designed to intercept illegally refined petroleum products from being marketed in Port Harcourt. Endemic corruption in Nigeria’s police force casts some doubt on the effectiveness of such measures. Photo: Dirk Steffen.

Members’ Roundup: June 2016

By Sam Cohen

Welcome to the June 2016 members’ roundup. Throughout June, CIMSEC members examined several international maritime security issues, including increased competition in the undersea environment, the Taiwanese Navy’s pursuit of an enhanced air defense capability, Russia’s modernization of the Black Sea Fleet, developments in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology and carrier based operations, and finally, growing piracy threats off the coast of Libya. 

Beginning the roundup at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Bryan Clark discusses undersea cables and the future of submarine competition. Mr. Clark explains how at least 95% of voice and internet traffic in addition to more than $4 trillion per year in financial transactions travels through about 300 transoceanic fiber-optic cables along the seabed. Due to the likely economic and military impacts a cable break or sabotage would induce on international security and economic dynamics, the ability to threaten or protect undersea cables and their shore landings will become an increasingly important aspect of future conflict – with procurement of advanced submarine and unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) technology being critical for  addressing this evolving threat. Mr. Clark highlights several of these technologies, including the rise of a new predominant sensing technology characterized by low-frequency active sonar, the use of undersea ‘battle networks’ and the deployment of fixed seabed-based sensors and outposts to augment UUV and submarine operations.

Harry Kazianis, for The National Interest, provides an analysis on the proliferation of anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles around the globe and the implications the spread of these weapon systems will have on future U.S. aircraft carrier operations in peace and in conflict. Mr. Kazianis notes that the carrier has been at the forefront of every major U.S. combat operation since World War II, but the short ranges of current carrier based fighter aircraft relative to the longer ranges of certain anti-ship missiles – such as China’s DF-21D, or DF-26 ASBM – may limit the usefulness of the carrier as both an effective deterrent and a reliable platform for power projection in contested areas of operation. The article highlights additional variables affecting the relevance of the flattop in A2/AD environments, including the likelihood of successfully targeting a moving carrier at sea deploying an array of countermeasures.

Ankit Panda, for The Diplomatprovides an overview of a Chinese Naval vessel entering Japanese territorial waters and the incident’s reflection of growing tensions between the two countries. Mr. Panda explains that a Type 815 Dongdiao-class spy ship entered Japanese territorial waters on June 15, a move Beijing has not repeated since 2004, when a Chinese nuclear submarine entered Japan’s 12 nautical mile territorial sea near the Sakishima Islands. The article examines whether the Chinese spy ship was abiding by international law, particularly the provisions governing ‘innocent passage’ under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Considering the Chinese vessel was a spy ship and sailed within Japanese waters for several hours, Mr. Panda explains that the Japanese Defense Ministry is investigating whether the PLAN vessel was operating in accordance with international law and if follow-up legal action should be taken.

Michal Thim and his colleague Liao Yen-fan, for Taiwan in Perspective, discuss the restructuring of the Taiwanese Navy, and the goal to acquire enhanced air defense capabilities for the fleet. The authors explain that modernization plans have identified interchangeable Aegis-like integrated combat systems (ACS) that pair powerful radars with advanced anti-air and anti-ship weapons as priority procurement targets. However, the recent breakdown in negotiations between Lockheed Martin and Taiwan’s National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) over the acquisition and technology transfer of the Mk.41 vertical launch system may limit the Navy’s ability to deploy ACS. They add that this breakdown and the resulting procurement limitations represent inherent challenges associated with Taiwan’s arms indigenization objectives.

To conclude the June members’ roundup, Sam LaGrone for U.S. Naval Institute News provides an overview of Russia’s first deployment of a new frigate to the Black Sea Fleet since the end of the Cold War. The Project 11356-class Admiral Grigorovich was sent to a Russian naval base in Crimea, which Mr. LaGrone explains is the first of many new surface ships the Russian Navy intends to base in the Black Sea. He adds that the delivery of the multi-mission surface combatant, capable of engaging submarine, air and surface threats, is part of a $2.43 billion Black Sea Fleet expansion program that will allow for increased power projection capabilities throughout the Fleet’s area of operation.

Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the month of June:

  • Bryan McGrath, for The War on the Rocks, explains how the lack of naval competition in the post-Cold War period has resulted in a U.S. fleet posture with limited offensive power. He explains how the Navy has prioritized a defensive mindset for too long, with survivability and defensive capabilities outcompeting offensive capabilities for platform space, budgetary resources and strategic inquiry. Mr. McGrath emphasizes that by adopting and implementing the distributed lethality concept across the fleet – that is increasing the unit-level lethality of virtually every ship in the Navy – U.S. naval forces will increase their capacity to successfully deter and challenge nations opposing U.S. interests and international law at sea.
  • Jerry Hendrix, for Defense One, advocates that the X-47B should be reinserted into carrier operations before the U.S. Navy begins to spend more time and fiscal resources on a new, expensive carrier-based UAV. Mr. Hendrix identifies that the Navy needs a long-range strike asset similar to the X-47B design, while it does not need a long-range surveillance platform – an asset the Navy seems to be leaning towards even though 68 unmanned MQ-4C Triton broad area maritime surveillance vehicles have recently been acquired. He also notes the possibility of evolving the X-47B into a joint strike-refueling platform, which would provide two useful, additional capabilities aboard the carrier that are more appropriate and necessary than a surveillance UAV.
  • Michael McDevitt, for The National Interest, discusses China’s ambitions as a maritime power by contextualizing the maritime environment from Beijing’s perspective. The article examines how China seeks to position itself in the maritime environment both regionally and globally, with the Coast Guard, PLA Navy, shipbuilding capacity, merchant fleet, distant-water fishing challenges, territorial disputes and both strategic and tactical level operations taken into consideration.
  • Paul Pryce, at Offiziere, provides an analysis on the current state of the Libyan Navy and the growing threat of piracy operations off of the country’s coastline. Mr. Pryce explains that the Navy’s one active ship, a Koni-class frigate, in addition to the lack of command and control governing the Navy – the same issue facing all Libyan security forces – is contributing to the refugee problem in the Mediterranean and the rising volume in piracy incidents throughout the region.
  • Robert Farley, for The National Interest, discusses Canada’s late 1950’s CF-105 Avro Arrow high-performance interceptor and the aircraft’s unsung potential as a dominating platform in early Cold War airspace, if only the program had not been cancelled due to shifts in Canadian technology, policy and security priorities. In a second article at The National Interest, Farley examines Russia’s Type 705 Lyra Cold War submarine that was regarded by the West as a profound threat to NATO’s undersea dominance.
  • Christian Davenport, for The Washington Post, highlights new technological advancements that may be transforming the way the pentagon outlines its defense strategy, particularly developments within the fields of robotics, drone swarms, and artificial intelligence. The article highlights emerging communication channels between the technology industry in Silicon Valley and the Pentagon, with Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter recently meeting with executives at SpaceX and Google.
  • Kyle Mizokami, for Popular Mechanics, discusses the deployment of two U.S. carrier battle groups to the Philippine Sea to conduct exercises following the UN court ruling on China and its claims in the South China Sea. Mr. Mizokami explains that the carrier strike groups (CSGs) consist of two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, two guided-missile cruisers, six guided-missile destroyers and likely two nuclear attack submarines – although their presence was not confirmed by the Navy. He adds that this is the first two-carrier exercise in the Western Pacific in two years.
  • Dave Majumdar, for The National Interest, examines the Russian submarine threat to NATO’s maritime forces and U.S. naval forces stationed throughout EuropeThe article explains how Russia has successfully incorporated highly agile, technologically advanced and lethal submarines into their overall A2/AD bubble strategy throughout European waters and the significant threat this poses to U.S. and allied undersea posture in the region.  

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on CIMSEC or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies, international law and defense policy.

Featured Image: Naval vessels of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (RT)

Members’ Roundup: May 2016 Part Two

By Sam Cohen

Welcome to part two of the May 2016 members’ roundup. Over the past two weeks CIMSEC members have examined several international maritime security issues, including the future role of the Littoral Combat Ship in the U.S. Navy, the continued development of the U.S. military’s Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, the possibility of reducing tensions in the Western Pacific with an international Standing Naval Group, and the development of an undersea second strike capability for India’s nuclear forces. Read Part One here.

Beginning the roundup with a discussion on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), Jerry Hendrix for Defense One argues that the U.S. Navy must adapt a procurement strategy that will emphasize a larger fleet and focus on providing the capacity to maintain a sustainable forward presence in multiple contentious maritime environments. Considering current budgetary constraints and the high costs associated with advanced capability ships, such as a $15 billion dollar aircraft carrier or a $2 billion dollar destroyer, acquiring enhanced LCS’s can provide the Navy with a relatively low-cost yet capable platform suitable for growing the size of the fleet. Mr. Hendrix suggests that to achieve an appropriate fleet size of 350 ships (currently 272) and to continue to promote global maritime stability the LCS should be recognized as a priority for the Navy to deploy in significant numbers.

Dave Majumdar, at The National Interest, provides an overview of the Ohio-class Replacement Program (ORP). Mr. Majumdar notes that Electric Boat will be responsible for about 80 percent of the submarines design and production while Huntington Ingalls Newport News will take on the other 20 percent of design and production work. To reduce costs and inefficiencies affiliated with previous ballistic missile submarine construction, the ships’ designers have applied several technologies and systems used in the Virginia-class ­submarines for the ORP. Mr. Majumdar explains that these cost reductions, in addition to the common missile compartment (CMC), will allow for the ORP to be constructed with minimal delays, which should also limit typical cost overruns associated with nuclear submarine production.

Sam LaGrone, at U.S. Naval Institute News, highlights the continued development of Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) and the current $321 million dollar contract from Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Lockheed is operating under to complete the missile’s critical design review (CDR). After completion of the CDR, testing for use of the air-launch variant of the missile by the Boeing B-1B Lancer supersonic bomber and Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter will begin. Mr. LaGrone explains that the LRASM program is part of the Pentagon’s process of substantially improving the military’s decades-old gap in anti-surface weapons.

Entering the Asia-Pacific, Lauren Dickey and Natalie Sambhi at Foreign Entanglements discuss cross-strait developments in the context of Taiwan’s new President while also unpacking China’s security policy beyond the South China Sea. The discussion highlighted the attributes of the current Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and how her recent public rejection and criticism of mainland China’s one-child policy reflects the pragmatic and pro-independence perspective that she will likely articulate throughout her time in office. Ms. Dickey and Ms. Sambhi also raised the possibility of increased counterterrorism operations in China to meet heightened domestic security concerns in addition to examining China’s role in driving U.S.-Australian relations.

Steven Wills and his colleague Ronald Harris, at U.S. Naval Institute News, discuss the need for an international solution focused on reducing tensions in the Western Pacific. Mr. Wills and Mr. Harris suggest that establishing a Standing Indo-Pacific Maritime Group (SIPMG) for the purposes of humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR), counter-piracy patrols, and general assistance to mariners in distress in international waters can provide a medium through which countries with competing territorial claims in the region can still cooperate and maintain channels of communication. The article explains that the SIPMG would primarily consist of limited capability ships focused on low-threat security operations while the Group’s command structure could be based off of the proven national rotation system used by the Standing North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Maritime Groups.

To conclude the roundup, Harry Kazianis for The Asia Times examines the DF-21D ASBM threat and whether the publicity surrounding the missile in defense circles is warranted. The article references the US-China Economic Security Review Commission Report to highlight the unproven capabilities of the missile, particularly in successfully hitting a moving ship from hundreds or thousands of miles away while the ship is implementing a wide-range of defense and countermeasures against the missile and its targeting systems. The article provides an interesting comparison between the Soviet Union’s development of a submarine-launched ASBM in the 1970’s and China’s current attempt to develop the same long-range ASBM capability. Mr. Kazianis notes that the Soviet Union cancelled the development of the missile due to terminal targeting difficulties, which is an end result that may soon reflect China’s ASBM program. Mr. Kazianis suggests that all contingencies should be prepared for considering Beijing’s access to an advanced satellite and ballistic missile technology base that the USSR lacked over 40 years ago.

CIMSEC Members were active elsewhere in May:

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on CIMSEC or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies, international law and defense policy.

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Members’ Roundup: April 2016

By Sam Cohen

Welcome to the April 2016 members’ roundup. Over the past month CIMSEC members have examined several international maritime security issues, including the strategic implications of China’s land creation in the South China Sea, Russia and China’s testing and deployment of offensive hypersonic weapons, the U.S. Navy’s development of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, India’s maritime ambitions in the Asia-Pacific and finally, increasing maritime tensions between African coastal countrie,s and the resulting naval build-up taking place on the continent.

Beginning the roundup in the Asia-Pacific, Lauren Dickey for the Asia Unbound Series at the Council on Foreign Relations analyzes the current political turmoil challenging the stability of Taiwan’s government. Ms. Dickey explains that Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party has retreated from an agreement with the country’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to conduct an item-by-item review of a service trade pact arranged with mainland China. The resulting breakout of severe protests by citizens, unions, and the DPP have demonstrate the harmful affects approval of the trade pact would have on Taiwan, including an increase in Beijing’s influence over domestic Taiwanese policy and the ability for large corporations to increase control over Taiwanese industry at the expense of local enterprises. Ms. Dickey highlights the perspective that the KMT party’s decision is one that has and will continue to challenge democratic principles within Taiwan while also creating a public atmosphere non-conducive to cooperative cross-strait relations.

Kyle Mizokami, at Popular Mechanics, discusses the test of China’s new hypersonic weapon, the DF-ZF, at the Wuzhai missile test center in central China. The DF-ZF is likely launched by a DF-21 IRBM, which releases a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) just before leaving the atmosphere. Mr. Mizokami explains how the HGV released in the upper atmosphere is capable of travelling at speeds from 4000-7000 miles an hour making it difficult to intercept and capable of reaching almost any target in the world within an hour. In a second article at Popular Mechanics, Mr. Mizokami continues the discussion on hypersonic weapons with Russia’s continued development of its Zircon anti-ship missile. He explains how the missile will increase the surface warfare capabilities of Russia’s aging battlecruisers by providing a new offensive capacity capable of penetrating sophisticated air-defense systems. Dave Majumdar, at the National Interest, also discusses the technicalities and implications of Russia’s development of the Zircon anti-ship missile, which you can find here.    

Harry Kazianis, at The National Interest, highlights China’s primary strategic objective in the South China Sea; that Beijing views complete control of the waters from Taiwan to Malaysia as imperative to supporting regional Chinese sovereignty. Mr. Kazianis notes that Beijing has used a process of incremental aggression throughout the region to slowly, and perhaps unnoticeably, challenge the status-quo maintained by the U.S. with the ultimate goal of achieving regional hegemony. However, as outlined by Mr. Kazianis, there is potential for the U.S. and regional allies to limit and even halt this Chinese aggression at Scarborough Shoal just West of the Philippines, where the U.S. has already begun operations with A-10 Warthogs and Sikorsky HH-60 helicopters providing air and maritime situational awareness to local forces while also articulating to China that reclaiming the reef will not be tolerated.

In a second article at The National Interest, Mr. Kazianis provides a list of different methods for confronting Chinese antagonism in the South China Sea, including a joint U.S. and allied A2/AD strategy, utilizing media and communications to demonstrate a clear U.S. regional objective and lawfare – the notion that the U.S. and regional allies should coordinate legal actions and claims against China to maximize their effectiveness.

James Goldrick, at The Interpreter, discusses the impact China’s artificial island construction in the South China Sea will have on peace and stability in the region when combined with its aggressive territorial claims under a pretense of sovereign rights. He outlines how China’s objective of creating a safe haven for its naval forces in the region will collide with the national interests of the rest of maritime Southeast Asia. He suggests that Beijing should adapt a more sensitive approach to their regional claims as to not risk international, kinetic conflict.

Alex Calvo, for the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute Blog, examines the sinking of a Chinese fishing vessel by an Argentinian Coast Guard vessel and highlights the incidents’ significance should China succeed in breaking out of the First Island Chain and seek an expanded posture in the Southern Atlantic. He notes that China operates the world’s largest long-distance fishing fleet and its interaction with foreign nations and their waters should merit appropriate attention considering how similar fishing related events have contributed to an increasingly tense political and security environment in the East and South China Seas.

To conclude the April 2016 Members’ Roundup, Paul Pryce at Offiziere discusses Africa’s rapidly growing naval forces in relation to the rise of piracy threats in the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf Guinea while also noting an increase in maritime boundary disputes rooted in contested off-shore oil deposits. While identifying several examples, Mr. Pryce notes increased tensions between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire and the corresponding procurement of 40 patrol vessels by Ivorian defense officials in response as a primary example of the new arms-race on the continent. He also mentions the procurement of three HIS 32 interceptor patrol vessels and three Ocean Eagle 43 OPVs by the Mozambican Navy in addition to the procurement of seven Macaé-class OPVs by Angola.

Members at CIMSEC were active elsewhere during the month of April:

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on CIMSEC or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies, international law and defense policy.