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Chief of Naval Operations Zumwalt’s Project 60, Part 2

Read Part One here

By Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt


I spoke earlier of the importance we ascribe to the dual-mission carrier in supporting the Nixon Doctrine. It will give more flexibility. When we face opposition at sea, the carriers, now operating both strike and ASW aircraft, can be used to protect the sea  lines of communications. When the seas are a sanctuary, as they have been off Vietnam, all the carriers can operate in an air attack role.

These forces can be employed as an advanced force that is capable of rapid commitment, possesses self-contained means of defense, and is easily withdrawn when a task is completed or other forces are deployed.

In this way, Naval projection forces are unique. They can operate as a mobile strategic contingency force—a ready, cutting edge. For instance, if it had been possible to turn over all the air strike effort in Vietnam to land-based air after the first 12 months, we could have pulled out the carriers. It would then have been feasible to reinforce the SIXTH Fleet, which, by showing greater capability from time to time over the past few years, might have proved helpful diplomatically. And we could have created a desirable presence in the Red Sea or Indian Ocean. In another war, at lower force levels, this ability of our projection forces to provide a retrievable strategic reserve after land-based forces are established might well be crucial.

All of a nation’s maritime capabilities bear on its influence around the world and its ability to establish a peacetime presence at a point of choice. We need not look hard to see how the Soviets have translated their naval presence into diplomatic leverage. Their strength in the Arab world today is not entirely attributable to the buildup of their Mediterranean fleet, but it was surely an important factor. The Soviets have, in a sense, successfully turned NATO’s southern flank.

Another area in which the Soviet Navy has supported political influence in peacetime is the Indian Ocean. Somali is a classic case. This chart, correlating Soviet ship visits with internal events, shows how the Soviets have carried on a coordinated economic and diplomatic effort, supported by their merchant fleet and backed by their naval presence. It has been a subtle, piecemeal incursion.

First the Somalis were placed in debt to the Soviets. Next, that indebtedness was used to shackle Somali oil imports exclusively to the Soviet Union. Then, the Soviet-trained army executed a military coup. Finally, the campaign has developed into border harassment of our friends in Ethiopia.


These, then, are some of the complex considerations that have engaged our thoughts in the past two months as we face important program decisions that determine our course for the future. In our reevaluation of the direction to follow, force options are constrained by an imminent decline in the defense budget and by predictions of a smaller percentage of the national budget for defense in the years ahead. We must find the best combination of the capabilities that we need most. In what has already been said, I have expressed our deep concern that our options are already constricted beyond the point at which we can cope with the threat.

This is an illustrative force, emphasizing projection forces that we could provide in FY-1972 with a budget $1B lower in expenditures than the fiscal guidance. We are not advocating this budget level, and I shall remind you later of my confidence level in maintaining control of the sea with the best Navy we can design with this budget. Here we have categorized our forces by the broad missions they serve, though there is substantial overlap. One example is our dual-mission carrier, which fits, appropriately, in both the projection and sea control groups. Another consists of the cruiser and destroyer, which often project power ashore. The forces are designated here by the missions that will be affected most by marginal force changes.

This Case A force mix has been designed to provide: first, a moderate level of escort protection for our carrier forces and replenishment groups, and, second, minimal protection for amphibious forces. It assumes that we can operate freely at sea, that the Soviets allow us our sea lines of communication. I consider this an unacceptable risk.

Case B emphasizes sea control forces within the same FY 72 budget constraints. Here we do not have enough carriers for the strike mission requirements described previously for the NATO and Asia situations. There has also been a reduction in our ability to provide an attack and amphibious cutting edge as well as contingency force suitable to the Nixon Doctrine.

These examples show that our choice, within these budget constraints, must be one of relative emphasis between sea control and projection forces. In Case C, both are reduced, but with less effect on sea control forces. As with any compromise, neither type of force meets the need adequately. We are faced with the difficult alternatives set forth for you earlier. These alternatives, in our judgment, make it mandatory for the national security that there be no reduction of Naval forces beyond the present levels. I want to remind you now of my view that, while we have a somewhat-better-than-even chance of defeating the Soviets with these FY 70 forces, the forces we can provide in a reduced budget—even at the POM level—lower my confidence of success to about 30 percent.

Prospective budget levels and the implications of the current and growing Soviet threat at sea require us to turn our force structure toward the sea control mission and to reduce accordingly the forces that support other missions. In partial compensation, we must take new actions to encourage the build-up of sea control forces by Japan and by NATO countries that have the requisite maritime skill and potential.


There are other types of change to which we are giving our attention.

In structuring our Navy for the 1970’s, we shall seek a balance between maintaining present force levels and modernizing for the future. As an extreme example, if we wanted to maintain our present forces at the expense of modernization within a budget of POM minus $1B in expenditures, we would have to eliminate every major procurement. This, of course, is out of the question for two reasons:

  • The rapidly improving technical quality of the Soviet Navy, and
  • The necessity for a balance—between our present capability against the present Soviet threat, and our future capability against a Soviet threat that not only is growing in quality but shows no sign of significant reduction in numbers.

To be able to concentrate our smaller forces rapidly in a single ocean against a sophisticated power and to meet strategic contingencies as well, the Navy—we are convinced— must have more nuclear-powered ships.

The Navy is committed to several complex and expensive systems, i.e., the SSN-688’s, S-3A’s, F-14’s, DD-963’s, DLGN’s, CVAN’s, and LHA’s. These large programs account for a major part of the budget. Each, however, fits into the pattern of naval capabilities I have set forth. Though each program will be reviewed against the threat and budget environment, I believe that we can and should complete most of these major projects that are now underway. Abrupt changes in direction of procurement are costly and disruptive, and the threat is rising so sharply that we cannot risk a hiatus in the introduction of new, more capable systems.

Some have said that naval missions can be carried out by forces that are much less sophisticated. Some trade-offs, it is true, should be possible, but I am impressed with the need for sophistication in the sea control mission, to counter the high quality submarines being produced by the Soviets. We need sophisticated carrier task forces for defense against Soviet anti-ship missiles launched from either submarines, aircraft, or surface ships. As for our employment of projection forces against third countries: we note that the Soviets have, so far, supplied our opponents with highly sophisticated defensive systems. We shall give this subject close attention and justify in detail all programs of high cost.


Let me report to you now on some actions we have taken—or are proposing—to increase current capability, speed modernization, and offset the actual and potential reduction in our forces.

As a matter of urgency in view of MidEast developments, we are examining ways to enhance the security of the SIXTH Fleet in the Mediterranean. We need a plan of action that will reduce the risk in the event of a confrontation with the Soviet Union.

A FORRESTAL-class CVA is being prepared for operation next spring as a dual-mission CV.

The Marine Corps will provide aircraft squadrons to operate in carrier attack air wings to make up, in peacetime, for the reduction we are taking in Naval aircraft.

We shall enhance surface ship capability for the sea control mission, in face of the Soviet anti-ship missile, by making surface ships air-capable. A Program Coordinator has been designated for the broad program. This is what we have begun:

  • An LPD, with six helicopters, will test tactics and procedures for a new breed of sea control escort.
  • An interim LAMPS program will place existing helicopters on DLG’s and a DLGN.
  • To prepare for the longer-range LAMPS program and test the feasibility of an interim capability, we shall test an existing helicopter in a DE-1052 class ship.
  • We are speeding development of sensors for helicopters employed in the air-capable surface ship.
  • The regular LAMPS program for our new DE’s will be accelerated. We may need your help on this proposal. Congress is balking at even the present, modest program.

Before the end of the year, we shall deploy two patrol gunboats (PGs) to the Mediterranean to test their capability in trailing the Soviet missile ships that trail our carriers and other major combatants. This is another action of an interim nature, designed to take some of the initiative from the Soviets, to make them react—as we now must— and to make their operations difficult.

We shall deploy one hydrofoil gunboat (PGH) to the Mediterranean to test its suitability in the trailing role. The results of this evaluation will help in the development of a gunboat that is designed particularly for the mission.

We are increasing ASW R&D for decoys and deception devices and procuring additional torpedo countermeasures equipment to protect our ships.

The Captor mine development program is being accelerated, to give us additional capability against the Soviet submarine. Captor is a deep-moored sensing device that detects a submarine target and fires a MK-46 torpedo at it. It will be useful in our blockade and barrier tasks and may be effective in protecting CVA operating areas against submarine intrusions.

The employment of SSN’s as surface task group escorts will be tested. A program to develop an improved submerged communications capability is being undertaken in support of this concept.

A proposal to develop an interim surface-to-surface missile by 1971, using off-the-shelf equipment—either a drone or a modular standard missile—is being readied. This weapons capability will give our ships a reach comparable to that of the Soviets and cut their advantage in that respect. With the carrier force level reduced, our ships cannot always count on air support, and this action will increase our flexibility in the employment of all our forces.

The Chief of Naval Material is conducting a conceptual design study of an advanced SSN with a subsurface-to-surface missile.

For the long term, a proposal will be made to accelerate delivery of the Harpoon missile system, which can be launched from either aircraft or ships against surface targets. This is the first formal program step toward achieving a requisite capability for both these purposes.

We are reviewing the desirability of removing nuclear surface-to-air missiles from our surface ships and terminating the procurement of SUBROC weapons. The prospective trade-off is an increase in our conventional capability.

The procurement of secure communications equipment is being accelerated, to give our ships and aircraft greater freedom of action. This measure, like others, will afford us the greater unit effectiveness that our smaller forces must have.

Defense against the entire spectrum of threats posed by the Soviet anti-ship missile to our task groups and convoys is under study. We are not convinced that our resources for defense are being used efficiently or effectively, and we are going to establish an office with authority and responsibility for centralized direction. We are looking at active and passive electronic warfare, command and control, communications, air and surface weapons, and new sensor areas, so as to match our response most effectively to the threat. As this matter is sorted out, we shall report to you with specific proposals.

We have begun to speed installation of the Basic Point Defense Weapons System and to develop the close-in Vulcan Phalanx gun system. We will thus increase our active defense against current Soviet missiles at low cost, while we seek solutions to the longer- range threat.

A smaller Navy must have better information and intelligence. We are establishing a group to look into the near- and long-term possibilities of better surveillance—both in satellites and underseas—including more effective use of the information already available from multiple sources. I expect a report within a month. In this area, our present view is that strong support from you and funding at relatively low levels could make a significant change in our favor in the power relation at sea.

If required by budget reductions, we are planning to decommission 35 conventional submarines, which now provide about 70 percent of our target services. We propose to retain 10 of these submarines at very austere manning levels and to reclassify them as ATSSs or target submarines. By taking similar action with an additional 7 conventional submarines of the active fleet, we are able to trade-off operating costs and have 17 target submarines with no additional requirement for funds. We thereby, of course, accept some loss of initial wartime combat capability.

To improve spare parts support, and thus material readiness, we are studying the desirability of reprogramming FY 71 funds to rebuild the spares inventory. Last year, an average of 6 percent of our ships were not ready for combat because of spares deficiencies.

We are modifying our investment in research and development. In FY-1972, the changes in emphasis will amount to about $90M for ASW and about $150M overall.

In pursuing the question of encouraging our allies to build-up their sea control forces, I have asked Admiral Colbert of the Naval War College to examine the need and possibilities. When his survey is complete—within two months—I shall recommend specific measures.

On the systems management side, we are emphasizing the Project Coordinator/Manager concept to deal with options that cut across all the complex disciplines of naval warfare. This concept—as exercised in the past—proved not effective enough; we are investigating ways of providing authority to go with the responsibility. We have already taken steps to ensure that successful project managers stay with their programs and receive promotion recognition.

You will note that these actions look to the present and to the future. They represent an initial program against the primary threat to our control of the seas. Though improved efficiencies in our use of forces may result, I refer you to my earlier remarks, pointing out that any of the potential reductions in our forces leaves the Soviets with the advantage at sea. The prospect that the momentum the Soviets have generated will lead to significant new developments is our primary concern. We must invest heavily in the future, even if we must pay for it by reducing current force levels.

To provide a better sense of direction for research and development, and promote force and strategic planning, I have created a special group, to be known as the CNO Executive Panel. The panel will work directly for me in developing a long-term concept for the Navy and in reviewing our current programs to make sure that they are consistent with that concept.

We are also reviewing the Navy’s support structure and identifying special budget problems, so as to eliminate all expenditures that do not contribute to Naval readiness.

You are familiar with the problems we are encountering in scaling down our base and support facilities. Our current survey seeks to reduce overhead while providing a hedge against any future requirement for buildup. This analysis is nearing completion, and we shall come to you soon with a proposal for major savings in the consolidation and closure of facilities.

Similar work, now in progress, will lead to changes in the Navy’s general support activities—base operations, training, logistics, command, medical, and individual support. These activities account for 35 percent of the FY 72 POM Annex Navy budget, a substantial increase from the 29 percent of FY 64. We are looking at the factors that have caused this increase. We are also establishing procedures to consider support and force implications simultaneously, providing a degree of effectiveness that has not been possible till now. In the meantime, our planning assumes that general support for each force category will be changed approximately in proportion to the changes in force level.

The Navy has a special problem in a serious expenditure hump in FY 71 that could induce even deeper cuts in force level. For example, a delay of several months in required decisions on inactivations of ships and reductions in civilian employment would cost the Navy on the order of $75M. Our FY 71 budget is already tight, and trade-offs for the $75M will be hard to find. Rumors are rife in the fleet; the uncertainty has created serious morale problems, with attendant effects on personnel retention. We need your help and shall continue to work closely with you on this.

We face a similar problem in out-year level funding. Inflation—at current or reduced rates—amounts to a cut in defense resources. For example, a 5% inflation effectively cuts $1B from the Navy budget and reduces the size of the Navy that can be supported.

The change of direction that I have described will not improve our exercise of power at sea unless we are able to manage our personnel better. We must set a clear purpose within the Navy. We must make naval service more attractive. I think measures to achieve these goals offer the greatest single potential payoff in increased combat readiness. Nothing less than an all-volunteer force will be acceptable.

Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt served as the nineteenth Chief of Naval Operations of the U.S. Navy, from 1970 to 1974. 

Featured Image: The U.S. Navy Aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) underway in the Tonkin Gulf in November 1972. The Big E, with assigned Carrier Air Wing 14 (CVW-14), was deployed to Vietnam from 12 September 1972 to 12 June 1973. Alongside steam the guided missile cruisers USS Long Beach (CGN-9), USS Truxtun (DLGN-35) and USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25) (from top to bottom). (Wikimedia Commons)

CIMSEC 2019-2020 Officer and 2019-2021 Board Nominations Now Open

By Jimmy Drennan

In order to submit a nomination, you must be a CIMSEC member at the time of nomination. The nominee must be a CIMSEC member as well. Members can be nominated and run for more than one position but may only hold one voting office. Officers may also be members of the Board of Directors.

To read more about the positions and the scope of responsibilities, click here. As an all-volunteer group, we rely on our officers to carry out the important day-to-day functions and mission of CIMSEC. Expected workload for officers is a minimum of 3 hours per week, although we believe as in most things in life the more you put in to the effort the more you will get out of it. There are plenty of opportunities to make a real difference in moving our mission forward if you want to put in the time.

It is important to stress the premium we place on communication. If you make the commitment to become an officer, you are expected to stay in regular contact.

After You Are Nominated

For those stepping up to compete as a candidate for an elected position, once you have been nominated you will be contacted and asked whether you accept the nomination. If you do, you will also be asked to submit answers to the following two questions to President@cimsec.org before the election begins. It is therefore recommended that you also prepare and submit your answers as soon as possible.

1. What are your qualifications?
2. What are your goals?

You will also be asked to sign our conflict of interest policy.

Nominations will close on August 29. Elections will commence soon after.



Jimmy Drennan is the president of CIMSEC. Contact him at President@cimsec.org

Maritime Security in Sabah: ESSCOMM On the Rise

By Zachary Abuza, PhD

Security in Sabah

 In 2013, a group of several hundred armed militants from the southern Philippines landed in the Sabahan city of Lahud Datu in an attempt to retake the land in the name of the Sultan of Sulu. 10 security force personnel and 6 civilians were killed. 45 militants were killed, 30 were captured and nine were sentenced to death. Since then, the eastern Sabah State of Malaysia has witnessed a series of armed incursions, kidnapping for ransom, one of which led to the decapitation of a Malaysian policeman. Additionally, from March 2016 to April 2017, a spate of maritime kidnappings threatened regional trade. According to open source data, 70 seamen from six countries were taken in 19 separate incidents.1 Five were killed during the attacks, while others died while in captivity. By the fall of 2016, pirates were attacking large ocean going vessels, including Korean and Vietnamese vessels, while a Japanese ship took evasive action.

This forced the establishment of trilateral maritime patrols involving the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. While that led to a sharp decline in maritime incidents, they recommenced in 2018 and again in June 2019. Gunmen kidnapped 10 Malaysian fishermen, though they were soon released. Since 2017, Malaysian police have arrested 39 members of the Abu Sayyaf (ASG), a jihadist group, including two in 2019. Additionally, some of the most important terrorist cells arrested in Malaysia have been in Sabah, a key transit route for foreign fighters entering and leaving the Southern Philippines, including at least three of five suicide bombers since July 2018. All of this points to the fact that Sabah is not only the crux of Malaysia security, but regional security as well.


The Malaysian government established the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) in April 2013 in response to the chaotic and un-coordinated response to the Lahud Datu incursion.

The organization was supposed to be a coordinated and joint operational headquarters for the Malaysian Armed Forces (RMAF), the Royal Malaysian Police (RMP), including the Special Branch which is the lead counterterrorism agency, the maritime police, and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA). The navy has deployed special forces to the region, and upgraded their fleet of small craft, as well as set up two offshore vessels as operational hubs. The maritime police established two operational bases on coastal islands.

Starting in 2015, Malaysia deployed the first of eight advanced coastal radar stations to give them greater maritime domain awareness (MDA). It was an important step. In 2018, Malaysian officials claimed to have thwarted 10 incursions by ASG militants, and killed nine kidnapping suspects in maritime skirmishes. The only successful maritime kidnapping in 2018, was that of two Indonesian fishermen.

A map of the ESSCOM area of responsibility (Wikimedia Commons)

But there were a number of shortcomings. Most importantly, Malaysia has little experience in joint operations, let alone inter-agency operations. ESSCOM was faced with an almost insurmountable challenge. It also goes to the highest levels as there is no formal National Security Council-like process.

Even with the nascent inter-agency planning and operational process, rivalries remained problematic. In its first operational year in 2014, it had a budget of RM660 million ($200 million at the time), but there were immediate fights over it. The army still controls the lion’s share of the ESSCOMM budget, despite being a largely maritime and policing issue. Many security analysts, however, noted that the police were the worst when it comes to coordination and inter-agency cooperation. That intransigence has given the army the space to step in. When there is close cooperation within ESSCOMM, it tends to come down to personal relationships, rather than formal coordinating mechanisms and processes. But even operational areas of responsibility between the RMAF, the police and MMEA were not always delineated and de-conflicted.

Budgets remain very tight. Even before the historic victory of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, the first opposition government in 61 years, Malaysian defense spending began to fall from its peak in 2015. The $4.5 billion debt that the PH government inherited from the government of Najib Razak from its massive 1MDB fraud case will mean that Malaysian defense spending will continue to fall as the government is predicting large deficits  for the next few years. In the past five years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s military expenditure data set, Malaysia’s defense budget fell from RM16.1 billion to RM14 billion, a 13 percent decline. In dollar terms, in the past five years, Malaysia’s defense budget contracted by 22 percent from $4.1 to $3.2 billion. Malaysia has among the lowest defense expenditure as a percent of government spending, at 4.3 percent. This has declined from 5.5 percent a decade ago. In the past decade, Malaysian defense spending as a percent of GDP was cut in half from 2 to 1 percent. We see this in terms of per capita spending as well. In the past five years, Malaysia’s defense spending has fallen from $160 to $108 per capita, a 32 percent decline.

But the problem isn’t simply budgetary; it is one of priorities. The RMAF budget is dominated by the army, despite the fact that most of the country’s security threats are maritime in nature. The army’s budget is larger than the combined budget of the navy and air force, and it has 80,000 men compared to the navy and air force with only 15,000 each. Moreover, this fiscal austerity is shared across the agencies.

Another issue is the sheer scope of the area to patrol. The coastline of ESSCOMM alone is around 1,400 kilometers, and includes seven districts in eastern Sabah. There have been discussions about expanding it, but to date that has not happened. The ratio of resources to area is just not there. In addition to the geographical scope is the fact that Sabah is home to an estimated 800,000 illegal migrants, most of whom are ethnic Tausigs, the same ethnicity of most of Abu Sayyaf. Those clan and kinship ties have proven invaluable for Abu Sayyaf and other kidnapping syndicates.

Finally, there is the fact that Sabah is treated differently. There is a sense of “internal colonialism,” which is shared by both Sabahans and peninsular Malaysians. RMAF forces from Peninsular Malaysia resist deployment there.

Reforms in the Offing

 The news is not all bad. There is an understanding of ESSCOMM’s weaknesses and an acknowledgement that it needs to be fixed. A former Sabah assistant minister, Ramlee Marahaban, from the former ruling UMNO party, provided a solid criticism. For him it was not a need for more resources or personnel, but a shift from army authority to the police and MMEA, with clearer lines of authority:

“The weakness of ESSCOMM, which has been in operation for six years now, is due to the lack of a clear jurisdiction of the agencies involved. Full power should be given to the police and maritime agencies as they have the authority to arrest, investigate, and prosecute. The army can support through asset deployment, including usage of radar. The number of assets and personnel stationed at the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSCOMM) is more than sufficient but the weakness lies in the overlapping of power and duties.”

When the author interviewed senior members of the Pakatan Harapan government, they broadly concurred with this. Though they would not spell out the details of the ESSCOMM

reorganization, they made clear that it would be much more in terms of statutory authorities, chain of command, and procedures, rather than a host of new resources, manpower, or assets. The Minister of Defense Mohamad Mat Sabu announced the government’s intention to re-organize ESSCOMM, on 6 May 2019, which has since been endorsed by the Inspector General of the Police. What is more likely in terms of personnel is changes in command of certain bases or security sectors.

The Deputy Minister of Defense, Liew Chin Tong, has made maritime security a priority: “[W]e have to realise that Malaysia is a maritime nation and the seas are our lifeline, with many resources coming from the waters, and many strategic water spaces to protect in an increasingly complex security environment.” While he acknowledged that the army’s budget and size was unlikely to change, he was insistent that they would have to broaden the scope of its operations and take on some maritime roles. As he wrote, “The army has to learn to swim.” The army will soon deploy one battalion to train alongside naval special forces in Sabah. Perhaps more importantly, the Army is contemplating a major reorganization, along territorial lines, which would give Sabah greater primacy. But more importantly he prioritized joint operations, and at least pointed to “whole of government” solutions to Malaysian security concerns. These plans will be officially rolled out in the 2019 Defense White Paper, which should be released soon. 

While the overall budgetary pressure on the RMAF is large, the budgets allocated for Sabah-deployed forces have not taken such hits. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad is not a fan of conventional military spending, which he views as being something that antagonizes China. The Defense White Paper has prioritized non-traditional security threats, including those in Sabah, such as kidnapping for ransom and terrorism, in particular.

The government has a political incentive to improve the security situation in Sabah. The Sabah Heritage Party (Warisan) is a key member of the governing coalition with 8 of 121 parliamentary seats; and the state’s Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, heads the party. In the 2018 election, Sabah proved to be a critically important vote bank, and it will remain so. The Sabah government itself is supportive of ESSCOMM. Shafie Apdal said in June 2019, “We welcome whatever changes, whether it is for cost cutting or not, but most important is the effectiveness of ESSCOMM’s role in Sabah.” He previously  made it very clear that ESSCOMM is not going away. The local economy in general, and tourism sector in particular, have been very hard hit by the kidnappings. Moreover, the curfews are very unpopular.

The Special Branch also knows how important Sabah is in terms of counterterrorism. This area remains the key logistics hub for getting militants in and out of the southern Philippines. In 2018 alone, Malaysian police arrested 29 foreign fighters in Sabah. This is critical as the southern Philippines remains a key draw for foreign fighters following the loss of the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq, and it is the only place in all of Southeast Asia where militants have any possibility of controlling territory. Militants in the Southern Philippines continue to bill themselves as the leaders of the Islamic State in East Asia.

While Malaysian security forces have publicly stated that they have not seen a revival of JI networks, as is very evident in Indonesia, privately, a number of Malaysian security analysts have told the author this is nonsense, pointing to the resilience of Darul Islam Sabah, which since 2014 has been working with Indonesian JAD and other pro-ISIS groups in the Philippines, but whose ties to traditional JI networks remains deep and enduring. In the ideology of both JI and ISIS is the concept of “Hijrah,” emigrating to join a struggle.

MMEA’s Growing Pains

One of the keys to Sabah’s security is the development of the MMEA, which is lauded for their professionalism and lack of corruption. It was established in 2004. While the police feared losing their maritime police functions, the Navy advocated for it because they didn’t want brown water constabulary functions. The MMEA was originally under the Prime Minister’s  Department, though since late 2018 it has been under the Ministry of Home Affairs. To date, it has been headed by a uniformed naval officer, while much of its senior leadership are also naval personnel. But now in its 16th year, it is developing its own leadership from within its ranks.

Like every security agency in Malaysia, its budget remains tight. It is currently constructing three offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) under license from the Netherland’s Damen Group. Japan recently donated two OPVs from its Coast Guard, as it has with the Philippines and Vietnam. The Malaysian Navy transferred two OPVs to them, as well. However, the deployment of smaller fast craft is what remains so important in the Sulu Sea off of Sabah.

A map depicting a series of kidnappings near Sabah (The Star/ANN/File)

While Sabah remains very important for MMEA, it has a host of other concerns: the territorial dispute with Indonesia, the Strait of Malacca, and countering Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) gray zone operations in the South China Sea, including defending Petronas oil platforms at Luconia Shoal that have been increasingly harassed by the CCG. The organization also has limitations in its personnel pipeline, as well as sheer budgetary constraints.

Trilateral Maritime Patrols

 The trilateral maritime patrols that commenced in 2017 are far short of their potential, yet they have worked. The data is very clear: since the patrols began maritime incidents have declined. And while the improved situation is not irreversible, other scholars haver agreed with this assessment. And in addition to naval and coast guard coordination, Malaysia and the Philippines established a maritime policing agreement in 2017. In July 2017, the three states augmented the trilateral maritime agreement, with a trilateral air patrol agreement.

(From left) Malaysian Minister of Defense Hishammuddin Hussein, Indonesian Defense Minister General Ryamizard Ryacudu and Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at the Third Trilateral Defence Minister Meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia on Aug 2, 2016. (Photo:EPA)

But by focusing limited resources on protecting key channels, they are leaving a lot of open ocean un-patrolled. While that might be fine for countering piracy, maritime kidnappings, and protecting regional shipping it has a downside for illicit smuggling and infiltrating terror suspects in and out of the Philippines.

There is still not a single place where the patrols are coordinated, and there is no fusion center such as what exists in Singapore’s Changi naval base. This coordination problem remains an issue of pride and sovereignty, where every state agrees to it in theory, but as long as they get to run it. But no state has the resources dedicated to make this effective. And they have been unwilling to take funding that Singapore or other outside partners (the United States and Australia) have offered. None of the states want to broaden this to be a multilateral force. Suggestions to shelve the sovereignty issue by basing it in a neutral third party, such as Brunei, have gone nowhere. Nonetheless, the Changi Fusion Centre in Singapore has greatly expanded its monitoring and reporting capabilities. Indeed, more information from the Sulu Sea region is being shared with them by both states as well as the shipping and fishing companies.

The lack of clear demarcated maritime borders that the author originally assumed would be a major impediment to the trilateral patrols has not borne out. The Philippines and Indonesia demarcated their 1,162 kilometer maritime boundary in the Celebes Sea in 2014, which came into effect in 2019. Malaysia and Indonesia still do not have a maritime border between Sabah and East Kalimantan, though there have not been any major flareups in the past few years. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated his country’s claim to Sabah (still on the books, but long shelved) in 2016.2 The Malaysian government refused to discuss the issue with the Philippines, and maritime cooperation has continued.

It is a mere 15 minutes by fast boat between Lahud Datu and Tawi Tawi, so a clearly demarcated border, at least a de facto one, is important. At the very least, the countries have not let ongoing legal disputes interfere with maritime policing operations. Indeed, Indonesia and Malaysia were able to wrest the right of hot pursuit, a major concession, from the Philippines, after threatening unilateral military action.

The Malaysian security forces have maintained a very active defense posture on the water. They have not been shy about using force, and in 2018 thwarted ten attempted incursions, and killed nine suspected kidnappers, including four in a well-publicized incident in April.

No doubt, each country has increased their maritime capabilities, but they are still dwarfed by their land-based counterparts. In all three nations the army’s budget remains larger than the navy and air force’s combined. Indonesia’s attempts to stand up their Coast Guard continues to fall short. None of the three countries has maritime capabilities in proportion with their security needs or coastlines. And yet, even a small degree of coordinated patrols and additional resources has been a relatively effective deterrent.


 No Malaysian security official that the author interviewed saw any significant improvements in the security situation in the Southern Philippines, and especially throughout Sulu and Tawi Tawi. Despite bilateral pledges of cooperation in counterterrorism, they expect incursions, maritime kidnappings and ship-jackings to continue. And since they have little confidence in Philippine authorities, they know that the onus was on them to enhance security and deter incursions.

And yet, there is real concern that this over time will be a money pit that Malaysia simply cannot afford. As one Malaysian security analyst put it: “They don’t have an endgame [in Sabah]. Tell me how this ends?”

Zachary Abuza, PhD, is a Professor at the National War College where he specializes in Southeast Asian security issues. The views expressed here are his own, and not the views of the Department of Defense or National War College. Follow him on Twitter@ZachAbuza.


1. The author maintains an open-source data set on southern Philippine security incidents by non-state actors. As it is based on media reporting, it tends to be conservative, as many incidents do not get reported on.

2. The Philippines claims that Sabah was patent of the Sultanate of Sulu, which leased the land to the North Borneo Company, a British royal concession in 1878. The British claim that the land was ceded. In 1963, Sabahans voted in a referendum to join Malaya (along with Singapore and Sarawak), creating Malaysia. The Philippines has maintained the claim, though it has largely been dormant, until President Duterte’s 2016 statement.

Featured Image: Philippine government soldiers fighting the Maute group watch a helicopter attack (not pictured) as they take a break inside a military camp in Marawi City, southern Philippines May 30, 2017. (REUTERS/Erik De Castro)

Chief of Naval Operations Zumwalt’s Project 60, Part 1

Project SIXTY was Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt’s plan of action for his term as Chief of Naval Operations, lasting from July 1, 1970 to June 29, 1974. In it Admiral Zumwalt describes a resurgent naval threat from a peer competitor, the need to rebalance the mission focus between sea control and power projection, and how to optimize the fleet in the context of budgetary pressures. 

Project SIXTY will be republished here on CIMSEC in three parts. This republication is drawn from the U.S. Naval War College’s Newport Papers, specifically “U.S. Naval Strategy in the 1970s, Selected Documents” edited by John B. Hattendorf. 

Memorandum For All Flag Officers (And Marine General Officers, Dated SEP 16, 1970

Subj: Project SIXTY

1.  In July I told you that I would make an assessment of the Navy’s capabilities and problems for a presentation to the Secretary of Defense in early September. With the benefit of your insights and assistance, this task, Project SIXTY, has been completed. Secretary Chafee and I made the presentation on 10 September to Secretaries Laird and Packard and follow-on discussions with them are scheduled.

2. I consider that the substance of this presentation sets forth the direction in which we want the Navy to move in the next few years. The decisions that we make, and implement, at the command levels of the Navy should be consistent with these concepts. Further, I am passing this paper to the CNO Executive Panel, and its Programs Analysis Group, as the primary guideline for their deliberations in advising me on actions we should take and on the suitability of current programs. The Panel will consider the Project SIXTY paper as a dynamic statement of the direction that the Navy is to move and will adapt new concepts and ideas to keep the guidelines current and in-step with the threat and our best thoughts. 

3. I am forwarding the Project Sixty Presentation to you, under cover of this letter, to guide your actions as well to keep you fully aware of my thinking and to encourage your support as we move ahead. 



My purpose today is to report to you on our naval strengths and weaknesses and the actions we are taking, or will propose, to achieve the highest feasible combat readiness. The report reflects our survey of the Navy to date and sets forth the change of direction which we think necessary. It is impossible to discuss these changes outside the context  of potential budget reductions. We will indicate the effect of such reductions; they would curtail our capabilities critically, regardless of our actions. However, we hope to emphasize the theme of the changes that we feel must be undertaken, whether we can maintain our present expenditures or not.

The Navy’s capabilities fall naturally into four categories:



  • Assured Second Strike Potential,
  • Sea Control by our attack submarines, dual-mission carriers, escorts, and patrol aircraft,
  • Projection of power ashore by our dual-mission carriers and the amphibious force, and
  • Overseas presence in peacetime

We want to see where each of these capabilities fits into the possible conflict situations that we may face in the decade ahead. What, in short, does the country require of its sea forces?



We are looking at this matter at a time when two factors have developed, of the highest importance to the power relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union:

  • Nuclear parity, and
  • The emergence of a strong, worldwide-deployed Soviet Navy


The initial Navy capability is the contribution it can make to an assured Second Strike potential.

Strategic deterrence must come first. Soviet achievement of nuclear parity, deployment of SS-9’s, and potential deployment of MIRVs have all raised the value of our sea-based strategic forces, and we are close upon the point when more of our deterrent forces will have to be based more securely. We are confident that the Navy can design and build a secure, effective ULMS (Underwater Long Range Missile System). If the national decision is to rely more heavily on sea basing— that is, to have ULMS operating before 1980—we must soon decide to accelerate.


The other major naval missions at sea involve our sea control and projection forces.

The recent changes in relative strategic power between the Soviets and ourselves also have important implications for these conventional forces.




On the one hand, the credibility of our ability to control the sea is essential to the credibility of our strategic sea-based deterrent. On the other hand, now that we have lost our superiority and are reducing our conventional forces, the Soviets are more likely to use military force to achieve their political objectives. The importance of the portion of our conventional force that is capable of overseas presence has thus been increased.



From the naval standpoint, these relationships are influenced further by the Nixon Doctrine and by the large, modern Soviet Navy that emerged in the 1960s.

The continuing withdrawal of the United States from foreign bases and—in Asia—the change in the forms of armed support we plan to make available to our allies, place additional responsibilities on our sea control and projection forces. Both will employ the dual mission carrier—the new CV concept. The Sea Control forces will see to it that sealift supplies get through to our allies. Projection forces will maintain a ready deterrent to avoid any misunderstanding of our intent and provide support promptly if needed. The Nixon Doctrine has effectively raised the threshold at which we would commit land forces overseas. We have moved closer to a situation in which Soviet or CHICOM involvement is the primary circumstance that might force us to intervene. We therefore face conventional war that will not include the sanctuary of full use of our sea lines of communication. The Soviets have conceded us this luxury in the past, in part because of our nuclear superiority, in part because of their belief that we could defeat them at sea in conventional war.

But now the Soviet Navy has evolved impressively in both size and spectrum of capabilities. Its technical and industrial base operates at high levels of design, development, and production. The Soviet Navy has been constructing and deploying submarines and surface ships at an ominously high rate. The quantity and technical quality of these ships has been rising sharply.

What does this new Soviet naval capability mean to us?

In strategic terms, the Soviet Navy is a worldwide force whose routine deployments reach into the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean, and Caribbean, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Today the Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean is as great as ours; 10 years ago it was negligible. We devote fewer than 800 ship days a year to limited parts of the Indian Ocean; the Soviets’ reach over that area has gone from zero ship days to 2400 in the past 3 years. Their submarine activity is four times as intense as ours and covers all the sea lanes of the world.

As you know, the Soviets have more attack submarines than we do. And they are building at a rate of 10–14 a year; we are building three. The Soviets are reducing the advantage we had in quality by building new, quieter classes of submarines. These new submarines have unique features that are so good we may copy them. In just two years, the Soviets have produced at least 6 new designs in submarines. Their new attack submarines are 3½ to 5½ knots faster than ours. Beyond this, they are giving priority to the Yankee-class ballistic missile submarines, building them at a rate of 6 to 8 a year.


  • 10–14 NEW SSNs PER YEAR

These factors give the Soviets several advantages:



  • With greater numbers of submarines, routine out of area deployments can be increased without alerting our intelligence. Their readiness to fight is kept at a high level.
  • Quieter submarines decrease the acoustic advantage on which our submarine barriers and underseas surveillance systems depend to detect Soviet submarine transits.
  • Their speed advantage permits the Soviet submarines to use leap-frog tactics and brute speed in attack or evasion underseas.


NOW BUILDING CAPACITY Avg. time to build 1 Sub.
USSR 14–20 35 21 MOS.
U.S. 3 6* 27 MOS.


And, highly important, the Soviets, with their large capacity and high building rate, can exploit technical improvements more rapidly than we can. They have a potential production level of 35 nuclear submarines a year without facility expansion.


1960 1970
TOTAL 227 723

The Soviets have concentrated on weapons for use at sea. This chart shows the buildup in missile-launching vehicles in their naval inventory.

Their surface fleet continues to grow in size and quality relative to ours.



They are building more ships than we are; amphibious ships are the only category in which we have been outbuilding them.

And the Soviets are enhancing the effectiveness of these forces with a high quality capability for electronics warfare and communications. This includes active and passive countermeasures directed at our systems, intercept equipment covering all of our emitters, and excellent facilities for communications jamming, deception, and intelligence. These assets are drawn together by a highly secure, worldwide communications system.

The Soviet Navy I have touched on here can be deployed in all the oceans. To maintain our own position, our Navy must be based on the two-ocean concept. We cannot concentrate forces in one ocean unless we are prepared to accept in war the loss of control of the other oceans—and thus the destruction of the Free World Alliance.

As an example of this limitation, in the first naval capability to be examined—that of support of war on land—we have looked at alternative ways to provide lift across the Atlantic. The lift mission cannot be performed by air alone. For a NATO war in the mid-1970’s, JCS plans call for moving seven million tons of military dry cargo and five million tons of military POL in the first six months. Of this total only 6% could be moved by air. This is consistent with our experience in Southeast Asia, where 96% has moved in ships.



Heavy reliance on sealift is an integral part of the U.S. role as a sea power. It emphasizes the absolute need to be able to control the seas if the nation is to exist. This slide shows why the sea control role must be a main concern of the U.S. Navy. Seaborne trade is several times more important to the U.S. than to the Soviets. Oceans lie between us and our allies; most of the Soviet alliances are with contiguous nations.



1958 1965
U.S. 274 395
USSR 26 90


U.S. 2 43
USSR 7 4




Support of war-on-land requires not only the ability to lift forces across the seas but also the ability to project power ashore.

At reduced force levels, we should be concerned about the threat to sea projection forces during the early days of a NATO war. The situation on each flank is different.




A combination of factors has given rise to a serious threat in the relatively restricted sea area of the Mediterranean. There are three such factors:

1. Continuous operation of Soviet ships in the Mediterranean,
2. Soviet access to ports that were closed to them less than a decade ago, and
3. Soviet use of airfields in the UAR and Libya. 

Because we lack adequate surveillance capabilities, we cannot keep full-time track of Soviet submarines in the Mediterranean. For their part, the Soviets’ surface ships trail our carriers, ready for a first-strike attack in the event of conflict.

Yet, the Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean demands militarily that we maintain our SIXTH Fleet at generally current force levels. Politically, the whole ambience of NATO requires us to assume that those forces—or augmented forces—will be in place and subject to early and very heavy attack at the outbreak of hostilities.

On the northern flank, however, political circumstances do not require our permanent or prior presence. Hence, before moving in to support forces on land, we would probably operate from mid-ocean to erode the Soviets’ submarine force, sweep up their surface ships and, as Allied land-based air operations took effect, slow down the rate of sorties from enemy air bases.

These considerations also raise the question of the importance of the naval air strike responsibility in NATO. NATO plans call for using all our carriers in this role. Because of air base shortages in Europe and competitive SAC requirements for tankers, I consider that mission of central value in holding the line on the NATO flanks until planned Air Force reinforcements can be deployed from CONUS. Though some feasible measures will reduce the naval problem, the essential deficiency is in forces.

I should add that strategic warning does not lessen the Soviet naval threat, but it might give us time to move our forces from the Pacific. Strategic warning might also permit the Air Force to make deployments, though bases would be a limiting factor.

Support of the land battle in a NATO war would thus require naval carrier strike forces. Therefore, most of our sea control forces would be engaged in protecting these projection forces. There would be little left to provide more than random security to the sea lines of communications. We would then be ceding to the Soviets this linchpin of rapid reinforcement upon which NATO depends to stabilize the conflict on land and reduce the likelihood of escalation.

Within likely budgets, this heavy commitment in one ocean would, in our judgment, require the movement of naval forces from the Pacific, abandonment of the Pacific  area west of Hawaii, and cession of control of those waters—including all of Japan, for instance—to the Soviet Far East Fleet. We can also lose sea control in the Atlantic as a result of events in the Pacific. The Soviets can give direct or proxy support to a North Korean attack on South Korea. The logical first response to that situation, as in South Vietnam, would be strikes by our carrier aircraft. Our analysis of the threat in the Sea of Japan at the time the EC-121 was shot down indicates a requirement for at least four carriers, with large protecting forces. Again, within likely budgets, our forces will be inadequate for sea control in the Pacific in the face of Soviet involvement—or threat of involvement—at sea, unless we move the bulk of our naval forces to the area. But that would cost us control of the Atlantic and the sea lines that support NATO.

These considerations present us with a number of hard alternatives in the face of budget reductions, if the Navy is to be in a position to make the necessary contribution to the nation’s security.



  • One course would be to commit all or nearly all the forces available, including the carriers, to the sea control mission. If so, the NATO air strike responsibility would have to be significantly reduced or even eliminated. In Asia, the cutting edge provided by attack carriers in a situation such as Korea would be reduced drastically if the Soviets chose to become involved at sea. At our lower force levels, we simply could not risk the irretrievable loss of sea control by hazarding our few carriers in land battles close to Eurasia.
  • Another course would be augmentation of forces from one ocean to the other in time of crisis or conflict, as an integral part of our strategic planning. If so, we would have to accept the risk or actual fact of Soviet control of the other seas and the implications of that result for the Free World Alliance.
  • The only real solution is maintenance of forces at the FY-1970 level or, for greater assurance, an increase of forces. This alternative will retain the naval option to provide the President with a mobile strategic contingency force whenever required and ensures greater confidence in our capability to support the deployment of Army and Air Force units.

Let me speak now of other naval capabilities that are required and that will fit into the force implications just discussed in the war-on-land case.

In addition to possibly contesting for control of sea lanes incident to a war on land, the Soviets’ naval strength enables them to start a war restricted to the sea. Such a conflict could be directed at Free World merchant shipping, at our naval forces, or at some combination of the two, the choice depending on the Soviets’ objective. The Soviets might also wage such a war by proxy.

If we were not already engaged in conflict, we could commit maximum available forces immediately to the sea control mission. There would be no conflicting requirements for projection of power ashore, though our ability to provide a strategic contingency force for another crisis would be reduced. This slide shows the results of a recent study of such a war at sea, including a high intensity war and a guerrilla war at sea. The study assumed present force levels projected ahead. In this study, our losses are heavy. They would be heavier at the lower levels we are now planning on.

How our allies—we—and the Soviets estimate the outcome of such a conflict could have a significant influence on responses to other situations. The Soviets surely gave this matter prominence in their decisions during the Cuban missile crisis. In our judgment, their naval course since that time originated then. Whether any President will ever again be willing to impose a blockade will depend on his assessment—and ours— of the risks if war at sea were to result. His decision will also depend on whether we proceed now to provide him with credible tools. To expect our allies to help us counter a Soviet initiative at sea will depend primarily on their view of our ability to pursue such a conflict successfully.

Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt served as the nineteenth Chief of Naval Operations of the U.S. Navy, from 1970-1974. 

Featured Image: Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt. Jr., USN, Chief of Naval Operations (left), and Rear Admiral Robert S. Salzer, USN, Commander Naval Forces Vietnam, discuss their recent visit to Nam Can Naval Base, Republic of Vietnam, as they fly to their next stop, May 1971. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.