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Cooperative Deployments: An Indispensable Tool for Preparing for the High-End Fight

By David Wallsh and Eleanore Douglas

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Gilday’s December 2019 Fragmentary Order (FRAGO), “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority,” emphasizes the importance of building alliances and partnerships to enhance U.S. warfighting capability, with a particular focus on “full interoperability at the high end of naval warfare.” This objective is critical—Washington’s ability to credibly threaten combined warfare across the full range of the competition to conflict spectrum enhances its ability to deter war and improves its ability to win if forced to fight one.

The U.S. Navy’s Cooperative Deployment Program (CDP), a framework for integrating partner nation (PN) navy units into deploying U.S. Navy strike groups, offers a particularly valuable instrument for advancing this goal. The Navy has many security cooperation tools for advancing interoperability, to be sure, but there is little substitute for months-long, real-world deployments. The Navy should therefore think creatively about how best to adapt this pre-2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) program to the demands of the era of great power competition.

Deploying for the High-End Fight

Cooperative deployments come in many flavors. At the advanced end of the spectrum, cooperative deployers participate in pre-deployment planning, training, and all or part of a real-world deployment. These highly integrated deployments tend to include traditional NATO allies.

The Royal Danish Navy (RDN) frigate HDMS Peter Willemoes’ 2017 cooperative deployment with the USS George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group (GHWBCSG) provides an illustrative example. The Willemoes deployed with the GHWBCSG in the U.S. 5th and 6th fleet areas of operation (AO) from February to May 2017, but integration efforts began much earlier. Beginning in early 2016, RDN personnel participated in staff talks, the GHWBCSG commander’s conference, and synthetic training. In December 2016, the Willemoes physically participated in the GHWBCSG’s pre-deployment composite training exercise (COMPTUEX). Willemoes commanding officer (CO) Commander Bo Overgaard later concluded, “Looking back at the start of the deployment…What we, the Royal Danish Navy, have learned and gained from being part of [GHWBCSG] most likely could not have been achieved anywhere else.”

Cooperative deployments such as that of the Willemoes are ideally suited to advancing the CNO’s vision of full interoperability for high end warfare, but the Navy should not lose sight of the value of providing partners with opportunities for smaller-scale integrated deployments. Indeed, CNO Gilday’s FRAGO also reminds us that, “Though we are not exchanging fire with our competitors, we are battling for influence and positional advantage today.” The CDP thus derives considerable value from its scalability. In late 2018, for example, the forward-deployed Ronald Reagan CSG conducted multiple weeklong mid-deployment integrations with Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) warships, including with the destroyer JS Kirasame in October and with the helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga one month later.

These are only a few examples of the ways in which the CDP provides essential value for advancing the CNO’s recent warfighting guidance. Cooperative deployments, if pursued strategically, are uniquely capable of preparing the Navy for the fights of both today and tomorrow.

For today’s challenges, cooperative deployments increase the power of U.S. Navy units putting out to sea right now. Many of U.S. allies possess valuable niche capabilities in which they have prioritized investments, while others may be more accustomed to operating in environments where the U.S. Navy is less experienced. Before the Harry S. Truman CSG in 2018 became the first U.S. aircraft carrier to operate in the Arctic in thirty years, for example, the Norwegian frigate HMNoS Roald Amundsen joined her for months of pre-deployment planning and training. Truman CSG CO Rear Admiral Gene Black later said of his time in the High North, “the Norwegians went out of their way to partner with us…one of their frigates joined my [CSG] and operated with every bit of the intensity and professionalism of one of our ships. And it was an absolute highlight that we could show up, never having operated together, and come together and operate at the highest level and in one of the most demanding environments that we could face.”

Deploying with partner nation ships in formation can also free up scarce U.S. resources for national tasking. This gives a commander flexibility to dispatch a ship for missions she might not otherwise pursue or to fill unexpected gaps. When the USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine container ship in June 2017, the New Zealand frigate HMNZS Te Kahana “flawlessly transitioned to help provide security and protection as part of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group,” according to CNO Admiral John Richardson.

As for the future, cooperative deployments are uniquely positioned to advance CNO Gilday’s objectives for high-end interoperability. Combined planning, training, and deployment over extended periods of time provide all parties involved with unparalleled opportunity to test and advance the limits of integration. It allows sailors time to identify and resolve kinks in systems linkages, to learn about one another’s planning processes, doctrine, and capability, and to work through the human factors of building trust, language, and cultural proficiency. The real-world stakes of a deployment, moreover, provide a critical forcing function for problem-solving in the face of the unexpected.

Still another distinct advantage—both for today and tomorrow—involves the strategic messaging opportunity to showcase partners’ willingness to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States military in real-world conditions. Strong alliances and partnerships constitute one of the United States’ most important assets in the battle for influence and strategic position that CNO Gilday describes. In this context, cooperative deployments involving, say, drills in the South China Sea with the Royal Navy or aerial operations in the Arctic with the Norwegians send a more powerful message than Washington sailing alone. Conversely, they can also provide Washington with a bellwether to understand the limits of some relationships. Last summer, for example, the Spanish frigate ESPS Mendez Nunez detached from the Abraham Lincoln CSG when Washington deployed it to the Middle East in response to rising tensions with Iran.


In light of the value proposition described above, we submit the following recommendations for adapting cooperative deployments to the goals of the CNO’s Design and the era of great power competition more broadly.

First, the Navy should explore creative variations on cooperative deployment execution. The Navy should strive to integrate its ships into select partner nation deployments just as it recruits others to join its own. These deployments would send the important strategic message that the U.S. is willing to support its partners in the same way they support the U.S., while enhancing the U.S. Navy’s future combined warfare capabilities. France recently deployed the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to the Eastern Mediterranean with the Hellenic Navy frigate HS Spetsai among its escorts.

Second, the Navy should adhere to a minimum definition of what constitutes a cooperative deployment. A cursory internet search of the term yields press releases of engagements ranging from the Willemoes’ approximately year-long effort to plan, train, and deploy with the GHWBCSG in 2016-2017 and Japan’s various week-long integrations with the Reagan CSG in 2018 to various instances of what appear to be single-day training events with other partners. We recognize that the CDP derives value from its flexibility, but if every engagement is a cooperative deployment then nothing is a cooperative deployment, and that will dilute much of the substance of what makes cooperative deployments valuable in the first place. If the U.S. Navy wants to drive toward “full interoperability at the high end of naval warfare,” it must be honest with others and itself about what it takes to get there.

Lastly, the Navy should deepen the complexity of cooperative deployments with key allies in the Indo-Pacific Theater. Washington has a number of treaty allies in that region, many of whom operate U.S. military equipment and enjoy longstanding information sharing agreements with the United States. This goal may be easier said than done, but for the era of long-term competition it represents an important north star toward which to chart a course.


CNO Gilday’s FRAGO directs the Navy to prepare for tomorrow while working with what it has today. Cooperative deployments are a critical variable in that equation, and the Navy should continue to pursue them in the present while ringing the bell about what agreements it needs to begin negotiating now in order to advance them in the future. Doing so will sharpen an important and in many ways unique tool through which to pursue full interoperability with U.S. allies and partners for the high-end fight.

Dr. David Wallsh is a research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), where he specializes coalition operations, security cooperation and Middle East security. He earned his PhD in International Security at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. 

Dr. Eleanore Douglas is a research analyst for CNA’s Strategy and Policy Analysis team, where she specializes in security cooperation, strategy and defense planning. She earned her PhD in Public Policy from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT Austin. 

The views expressed in this article are theirs alone and do not reflect the official policy or position of CNA, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Featured Image: ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 16, 2018) From the left, Royal Norwegian Navy frigate HNoMS Roald Amundsen (F 311), USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) and USS Gravely (DDG 107) transit the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG) while conducting its composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Flynn/Released)

Cooperative Maritime Law Enforcement and Overfishing in the South China Sea

By Michael Perry


Fish are the primary source of animal protein for populations bordering the South China Sea (SCS) and overfishing in the region has emerged as a major threat to food security.1 Over the past 30 years fish stocks have declined by one-third and are expected to decrease an additional 59 percent by 2045 if current practices persist.2

The threat is recognized by all SCS nations but hasn’t been curtailed for three primary reasons. First, the migratory nature of fish requires all SCS nations to jointly agree on constraints. Disagreements have not only made cooperation difficult, but have led to increasingly frequent confrontations between rival Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE) forces and fishermen. Second, even if nations could agree, the presence of Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing creates an MLE challenge. Lastly, the first two challenges coalesce to form a third – disparities in MLE capabilities affect perceptions of fairness and the perceived benefits of cooperation. That is, a nation asked to carry a heavier MLE burden may demand an increased share of fish stocks.

There may be a solution. U.S. MLE assistance can set the conditions for a fair, fully cooperative fishing agreement among SCS nations with minimal risk of escalating the present situation to the level of war.

Challenges to Cooperation

Fisheries economists agree that when nations cooperate to optimize the use of depletable resources, total catch increases because stocks are maintained at high levels.3 However, economists have also demonstrated that nations deviate from this total catch maximization model because there is no clear way to divide the “cooperative surplus” among nations, defined as the excess catch above what’s attained under noncooperation.4 As a consequence, noncooperation leading to overexploitation has been observed time and again.5 The reasoning behind this is simple. If nations unilaterally pursue policies not agreeable to others, the sum of these policies will exceed the optimal cooperative policy, and stocks will become depleted.

The concept of a fair allocation of the cooperative surplus is particularly challenging in the SCS. Expansive claims based on historical discoveries and interpretations, United Nations-defined exclusive economic zones, and the occupation of islands and reefs afar from mainlands leads to a large degree of overlapping jurisdictions.6 The most extreme claim is that of China’s “nine-dash line,” encompassing 80 percent of the SCS.7 Aside from tangible issues of geography and historical discovery, a nation’s ideology can contribute to what’s perceived as “fair.” China views itself as a Middle Kingdom that ought to govern affairs in its area of the world, if not globally. This conflicts with the U.S. view that it occupies the position of global leadership and must “contain” China from becoming too influential.8 Thus, even if China could make a case that its geography, population, MLE capabilities, and so on, warrant a “fair” allocation encompassing its claimed 80 percent of the SCS, established U.S. policy would be to exert influence to alter this balance, which would enrich other SCS nations to the detriment of China.

Were the challenge of a fair allocation of the cooperative surplus to be solved, SCS nations would still face an MLE challenge as IUU fishing is prevalent in the SCS. The current situation under noncooperation is informative for understanding the extent of IUU fishing. The Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center, an intergovernmental organization including all SCS nations other than China, estimates IUU fishing currently accounts for 8-16 percent of total catch.9 Much of this is Chinese fishing which China doesn’t consider IUU, but it would be naïve to assume that were China to enter a cooperative agreement that curtails its allowable catch, there would be a corresponding decrease in IUU fishing.  A cooperative agreement will place increased constraints on fishing, thus decreasing supply and increasing the incentive to fish illegally. For fishermen suddenly forced out of the legal fishing business, IUU fishing will be a logical, even if risky, line of work. Empirically, past agreements outside the SCS have seen this phenomenon occur.10 Thus, to address the MLE requirements brought by a constrained fishing environment, nations must also engage in security cooperation so MLE effectiveness can be maximized. IUU fishing can only be assumed to decrease following a cooperative agreement if SCS coast guards fully integrate their MLE efforts so there are no weak spots IUU fishermen can exploit.

The final challenge to cooperation is a conglomeration of territorial disputes and IUU fishing, along with China’s supremacy in MLE. China’s coast guard easily surpasses all other SCS nations combined in gross tonnage, with 190,000 tons of coast guard vessels of multiple types.11 In contrast, Vietnam and the Philippines possess 35,000 and 20,000 tons, respectively, while Indonesia possesses about 400 vessels compared to China’s 1,300.12 ISR and aircraft are both force multipliers in MLE and China has superiority in each of these.13 Thus, China possesses great leverage when bargaining over the cooperative surplus. 

Presently, noncooperation persists because China has calculated it is better off using its MLE strength to unilaterally impose its own laws in the SCS, rather than submitting to terms acceptable to the other bordering states. This strategy is evident in repeated instances of the Chinese Coast Guard intervening in fishing disputes with Vietnam near the Paracel Islands, with the Philippines near the Scarborough Shoal (approximately 472 NM from the Chinese mainland), and with Indonesia near Natuna (1151 NM).14 The problem with this unilateral Chinese strategy, aside from a lack of fairness, is that it has failed in the sense that overfishing persists. Despite its superiority in MLE, China hasn’t been able to reverse the observable trend of depleting stocks in the SCS.

In light of these issues, while geography and historical claims are immutable sources of conflict, MLE capabilities are mutable and can be employed by the U.S. to mitigate the threat of overfishing in the SCS. By providing MLE assistance to non-Chinese coast guards, the U.S. can, at minimum, assure China’s attempt to unilaterally control the SCS no longer appears feasible, and may even bring about a fully cooperative agreement.

Shaping the Conditions for Cooperation

An important notion from cooperative game theory is that when the right incentive structure is in place, players who would otherwise be in competition will form a “cooperative coalition” that is beneficial to all. The first objective of U.S. MLE assistance in the SCS should be to provide non-Chinese nations sufficient capabilities to police an area of the SCS that can provide a sustainable level of fish to all nations in the coalition. Lacking this, some nations may acquiesce to Chinese unilateralism as the best option. A fully cooperative agreement would include China, whose MLE capabilities would partially offset needed U.S. assistance to combat IUU fishing, and per economic theory total catch will increase as well. While Chinese cooperation can’t be assumed, it is highly desirable and MLE assistance should be directed toward convincing China the coalition can be an ally vice adversary.

While the coast guard figures cited earlier show a clear capabilities advantage for China, it is not an overwhelming one. Consider, for instance, disparities in population and hence demand for fish. Non-Chinese nations account for only 25 percent of the population bordering the SCS, so coalition MLE may only need to control a comparatively small section of it.15 Further, while China does possess superior air and ISR assets than other SCS nations, they still lag the U.S. in these areas.16 Aircraft and ISR are comparatively cheap relative to large end surface vessels. These facts make it seem promising the U.S. can cost-effectively close the MLE capabilities gap; looking at current coast guard and military aid budgets provides a useful heuristic to assess this more fully. China spent approximately $1.7 billion per year from 2011 through 2015 to modernize its coast guard. In contrast, the U.S. currently spends over $10 billion per year on its coast guard, while Vietnam and the Philippines each spend about $200 million.17 U.S. military aid for fiscal year 2019 allocated $30 million, $12 million, and zero dollars to the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia, respectively. The global mission to improve food security was allocated $518 million.18 Active participation by U.S. Coast Guard assets in the SCS has been virtually nonexistent, though in May 2019 they participated in a combined exercise with the Philippines, perhaps signaling willingness by the U.S. to invest more in MLE assistance.19

Given these figures it is clear a relatively small investment in the modernization of regional coast guards could go a long way. While federal budgeting is competitive and slow to change in the U.S., there are strong reasons to justify increased funding for MLE in the SCS. Aside from the general notion throughout the Department of Defense of a shift in emphasis toward INDOPACOM, there is a growing trend towards gray-zone operations where coast guards are better positioned than navies to play the central security role.20 Further, MLE assistance is ultimately intended to induce security cooperation with China to combat IUU fishing; successful cooperation on the comparatively benign issue of overfishing may pay dividends in resolving contentious issues closer to the level of war.

The above analysis makes it appear feasible the U.S. could provide the necessary MLE assistance to cordon off a section of the SCS sufficient to supply sustainable levels of fish to partners, and at a moderate cost. The problem, however, is that due to the migratory nature of fish this cordoned off area must be larger than what a simple calculation of fish per capita would suggest. Fish stocks intentionally left uncaught by the coalition will migrate to waters not policed by the coalition. In an idyllic world China wouldn’t deplete these migratory resources, but realistically overfishing should be expected as China disagrees with the fairness of the coalition’s policy. To account for expected Chinese excesses the coalition’s area must expand, so not only does required MLE assistance increase, but there is a risk of becoming too provocative and causing China to escalate hostilities to the level of conflict. It is therefore critical to assess the likelihoods of China joining an expanding coalition, and alternatively escalating to war.

The rationale for China joining the coalition in the face of U.S. MLE assistance is that, given the strengthened ability of the coalition to defend its waters, China’s strategy of unilaterally imposing its own laws for sustainable fishing will become clearly impractical. Under the current state of affairs China’s strategy isn’t working yet there’s still no sign of a shift, indicating they still believe aggressive unilateralism can work if they further advance their MLE capabilities. By advancing a regional coalition’s MLE toward first-world standards, U.S. partners can impose costs on Chinese unilateralism and hopefully encourage China to see cooperation as the best option. The suboptimality of unilateral MLE on the part of China is, however, not sufficient to assure cooperation. China has a third option, which is to escalate the dispute over fishing to the level of war. Fortunately, there are multiple reasons to believe China won’t take such action.

A comparison to a similar dispute over fishing laws involving China is informative. In the East China Sea (ECS), China and Japan have an ongoing dispute over fishing rights near the Senkaku Islands. While each continues to proclaim ownership of the Senkakus and surrounding waters, there have been far fewer provocative actions by China than seen in the SCS, and zero instances of the Chinese Coast Guard detaining Japanese fishermen.21 The limited hostilities in the ECS are likely the result of Japan fielding a peer coast guard to China’s.22 In fact, far from leading to war over the Senkakus, Japan’s ability to resist Chinese unilateralism led to an agreement between the two nations on both fishing constraints and MLE cooperation, which was signed in 1997.23

Despite the datapoint that Japan’s peer coast guard successfully curtailed Chinese unilateralism in the ECS, there is a justifiable fear that the interactive effects of China being curtailed in both the ECS and SCS would push it over the edge. It may consider failure to control either the SCS or ECS an unacceptable threat to its aim of becoming a global superpower and opt for war rather than cooperation.24

This is, however, unlikely due to the multitude of internal problems China currently faces that hinder its ability to wage a conventional war against U.S. partners. For example, China is facing a workforce crisis where cheap labor, which was the catalyst for its “economic miracle” that began in the late 1970s, is disappearing. Mortality rates, once in decline, are now on the rise in China.25 The United Nations’ Human Development Index for China also lags far behind first-world standards.26 All these factors negatively effect China’s ability to fund a prolonged, large-scale war. China does have escalation dominance over other SCS nations, so to signal to China that war would in fact be “prolonged” and “large-scale,” the U.S. must maintain its strong naval presence in the region as a sign of its commitment to fight a war if necessary.


U.S. MLE assistance in the SCS can mitigate Chinese unilateralism on fishing rights without provoking war, establish sustainable levels of fishing without Chinese cooperation, and may lead to a fully cooperative agreement with China to combat overfishing. Full cooperation has three key advantages, including a greater total catch, a reduced requirement for the U.S. to provide MLE assistance, and a reduction in the threat of war, even if this is small in the noncooperative case. It is therefore in the U.S.’ and partners’ interests to provide fair terms for an agreement with China rather than one that appears exploitative and pursuant of a containment policy. An agreement that is most likely to be accepted is one that has clearly defined rules on who can fish where and how much, how random fluctuations in catches will be remedied through trade, as well as complete transparency in how these determinations are made.

Michael Perry is a PhD student at George Mason University studying applications of game theory in the security environment. He is also a U.S. Navy Reservist and has deployed to Singapore, Bahrain, and Rota, Spain. The views expressed in this article are his own.


1. Zhang, “Fisheries Cooperation in the South China Sea: Evaluating the Options.” Marine Policy 89 (February 2018): 67–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2017.12.014.

2. Hsiao, Amanda. “Opportunities for Fisheries Enforcement Cooperation in the South China Sea.” Marine Policy, June 2019, 103569. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103569.

3. Munro, Gordon R. “Game Theory and the Development of Resource Management Policy: The Case of International Fisheries.” Environment and Development Economics 14, no. 1 (February 2009): 7–27. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1355770X08004671.

4. Kaitala, Veijo, and Marko Lindroos. “Sharing the Benefits of Cooperation in High Seas Fisheries: A Characteristic Function Game Approach.” Natural Resource Modeling 11, no. 4 (1998): 275–99.

5. Munro, Gordon R. “Game Theory and the Development of Resource Management Policy: The Case of International Fisheries.” Environment and Development Economics 14, no. 1 (February 2009): 7–27. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1355770X08004671.

6. Stearns, Scott. “Challenging Beijing in the South China Sea.” Voice of America. State of Affairs (blog), July 31, 2012. https://blogs.voanews.com/state-department-news/2012/07/31/challenging-beijing-in-the-south-china-sea/.

7. “Coastguard Here to Help, US Says to South China Sea Nations.” South China Morning Post, July 11, 2019. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3014006/coastguard-here-help-says-us-south-china-sea-nations.

8. Goodman, Melvin. “The Twin Dangers of Exceptionalism and Mindless Bi-Partisanship.” Counter Punch, June 13, 2019. https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/06/13/the-twin-dangers-of-exceptionalism-and-mindless-bi-partisanship/.

9. “Catch Documentation and Traceability.” Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center, n.d. https://www.seafdec-oceanspartnership.org/catch-documentation-and-traceability/.

10. Zhang, Hongzhou. “Chinese Fishermen in Disputed Waters: Not Quite a ‘People’s War.’” Marine Policy 68 (June 2016): 65–73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2016.02.018.

11. Morris, Lyle J. “Blunt Defenders of Sovereignty – The Rise of Coast Guards in East and Southeast Asia.” Naval War College Review 70, no. 2 (2017): 38.

12. Morris, “KPLP Director Asks for Effective and Efficient Patrol Boat Management.” Berita Trans, May 7, 2018. http://beritatrans.com/2018/05/07/direktur-kplp-minta-pengelolaan-kapal-patroli-efektif-dan-efisien/. 

Erickson, Andrew S. “Numbers Matter: China’s Three ‘Navies’ Each Have the World’s Most Ships.” National Interest, February 2018.

13. Morris, “The Era of Coast Guards in the Asia- Pacific Is Upon Us”; Morris, “Blunt Defenders of Sovereignty – The Rise of Coast Guards in East and Southeast Asia.”

14. “Are Maritime Law Enforcement Forces Destabilizing Asia?” ChinaPower: Unpacking the Complexity of China’s Rise, 2019. https://chinapower.csis.org/maritime-forces-destabilizing-asia/.

15. “World Population Prospects.” United Nations, 2019. https://population.un.org/wpp/Download/Standard/Population/.

16. Morris, Lyle J. “Blunt Defenders of Sovereignty – The Rise of Coast Guards in East and Southeast Asia.” Naval War College Review 70, no. 2 (2017): 38.


18. “Congressional Budget Justification:  Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, Fiscal Year 2019.” U.S. Department of State, February 12, 2018.

19. Jennings, Ralph. “Coast Guard Gives US New Tool in Disputed South China Sea.” Voice of America, May 20, 2019. https://www.voanews.com/east-asia/coast-guard-gives-us-new-tool-disputed-south-china-sea.

20. “The Era of Coast Guards in the Asia- Pacific Is Upon Us.” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), CSIS (March 8, 2017). https://amti.csis.org/era-coast-guards-asia-pacific-upon-us/.

21. Morris, Lyle J. “Blunt Defenders of Sovereignty – The Rise of Coast Guards in East and Southeast Asia.” Naval War College Review 70, no. 2 (2017): 38.

22. Ibid.

23. Hsiao, Amanda. “Opportunities for Fisheries Enforcement Cooperation in the South China Sea.” Marine Policy, June 2019, 103569. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103569.

24. Phillips, Tom. “Xi Jinping Heralds ‘new Era’ of Chinese Power at Communist Party Congress.” The Guardian, October 18, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/18/xi-jinping-speech-new-era-chinese-power-party-congress.

25. Chomsky, Noam. “‘Losing’ the World: American Decline in Perspective, Part 1.” Tom Dispatch, February 14, 2012. www.tomdispatch.com/post/175502/tomgram%3A_noam_chomsky%2C_hegemony_and_its_dilemmas/.

26. “Global Human Development Indicators.” United Nations, 2018. http://hdr.undp.org/en/countries.

Featured Image: Fisherman Shi Renping sails a fishing vessel towards a deepwater fish farming base near Meiji Reef of the Nansha Islands of China, July 17, 2016. (Xinhua/Zhao Yingquan)

Sea Control 167 – Indonesia’s Maritime Security Challenges

By Jared Samuelson

It’s a packed house on this episode of Sea Control! Sea Control host emeritus Natalie Sambhi (@securityscholar) returns to join Gilang Kembara (@barakembara) and Blake Herzinger (@bdherzinger) to discuss Indonesia’s maritime security challenges, controversial fishing policies, the national response to Chinese incursions into Indonesian waters, Indonesian naval modernization, and much more!

Sea Control 167 – Indonesia’s Maritime Security Challenges


3. The China Maritime Militia Bookshelf

Jared Samuelson is the Senior Producer of the Sea Control podcast. Contact him at seacontrol@cimsec.org.

The Advent of Naval Dazzle Camouflage

By Mark Wood

During WWI, maritime artist and naval officer Norman Wilkinson proposed that the answer to the growing U-Boat threat, rather than concealment, was for a ship to expose itself to the enemy.

At the commencement of WWI, anti-submarine warfare theory was still in its infancy. There were no instruction manuals on submarine tracking, nor had sub-surface weapons been developed to counter the threat posed by submarines. The initial German U-Boat campaign of 1914 against Britain’s Grand Fleet proved highly successful, resulting in the sinking of nine British warships by the end of the year, including the cruisers Aboukir and Cressy, and the battleship Formidable.

This disastrous beginning to the war forced the Royal Navy to seek safer anchorages off Donegal on Ireland’s North Atlantic coast. The following year, Germany’s campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare saw a dramatic escalation of attacks, and corresponding losses to the Allied merchant fleets. During the first six months of the war only 19 merchant vessels had been lost to U-Boat activity, however in January 1915 alone, the same amount of tonnage was sunk as was destroyed in the previous six months of conflict.

Allied navies resorted to arming trawlers and merchantmen, and some basic tactical instruction was disseminated detailing ideas to counter the U-boat threat, including heading into the line of attack, and attempting to ram hostile submarines.

It was not until 1917 that a Royal Navy officer wrote to the admiralty in London with what he considered might be a possible solution. Norman Wilkinson was a successful painter of maritime seascapes, and an artist for the Illustrated London News, who had set his career aside in 1915 to join the Royal Navy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. After submarine service in the Mediterranean, he was transferred to mine-sweeping duties in home waters and it was at this point that his idea for a radical form of effective camouflage began to take shape.

Naval camouflage was not a revolutionary idea. The ancient fleets of the Greeks and Romans had experimented with painting their vessels in shades of blue and green to blend with the surface and horizon, and in the early 20th century, navies of the United States and Europe stipulated shades of grey or off-white in accordance with shipping regulations in an attempt to do the same.

Wilkinson’s idea for dazzle camouflage ran contrary to previous thinking. Instead of attempting to hide vessels from enemy view, he intended that they should be highly visible with the key aim of sowing confusion in the mind of the attacker.

During early submarine operations, the task of computing a fire control solution for a U-Boat commander was a manual process. The target intercept course for a torpedo was calculated using slide rules and based on visual tracking of the current position, course, speed, and range of the vessel to be attacked. This problem was further complicated by the fact that the average speed of a torpedo was between 35 and 45 knots, only moderately faster than most warships of the age, therefore plotting information from a visual fix could be inaccurate at best.

Wilkinson reasoned that geometric dazzle patterns painted on ships would take advantage of the complexity in gauging the optimum firing solution for a torpedo by masking a vessel’s true course and speed, thereby confusing the commanders of German U-Boats and deceiving them into miscalculating the submarine’s fire position.

Submarine commander’s periscope view of a merchant ship in dazzle camouflage (left) and the same ship uncamouflaged (right). (Wikimedia Commons)

The bold patterns and extremes of color used in his designs, particularly at the bow and stern would disrupt the visual shape of a vessel, distorting perspective and falsely suggesting that a ship’s smokestacks or superstructure pointed in a different direction than it truly was.

Painted bow curves suggested a bow wave and oblique lines in stripes at the corresponding angles of bow or stern could give the illusion of shortening the vessels length, again confusing the computations of a ship’s attacker. Wilkinson’s ideas borrowed from modernist art concepts of cubism (indeed Picasso, in conversation with the American poet and novelist Gertrude Stein, claimed that the Cubist movement should take credit for its invention), the school of futurism, and its short-lived offshoot, vorticism.

The admiralty initially considered a number of proposals for camouflage schemes, including those from U.S. artist Abbot H. Thayer, whose theories of what he termed “concealing coloration” and “counter shading” were published in 1896 in the Journal of the American Ornithologists Union and are now known as Thayer’s Law. This law was based on the scientist’s many years of observing fauna across the continents of North and South America and concludes that animals are generally dark on top with white under surfaces. Seen from a distance this tends to cancel out the bright sunlight from above and shadow beneath, thereby effectively concealing an animal from potential predators. Thayer demonstrated his ideas to the Department of the U.S. Navy in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, however hostilities came to an end before his proposals could be acted upon.

A Scottish zoologist, John Graham Kerr, developed a keen interest in Thayer’s theories and after meeting in London during the 1890s the two remained lifelong friends, with Thayer forwarding a copy of his book Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom to Kerr in 1914. Kerr’s own approach focused on two main interpretations of his own zoological studies combined with Thayer’s. In compensated shading, a theory he elaborated as “All deep shadows should be picked out in the most brilliant white paint and where there is a gradually deepening shadow, this should be eliminated by gradually shading off the paint from the ordinary grey to pure white.” He suggested a further camouflage scheme he named “parti coloring” which anticipated modern “disruptive pattern” concealment by emphasizing the need to break up the outline of ships by using “strongly contrasting shades.”

 Models of the British passenger liner Mauretania demonstrate the effects of dazzle camouflage in comparison with a plain grey color scheme, when seen from the same line of direction. Photographed circa 1918. The camouflage scheme seen here was eventually not used on Mauretania. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.)

While both Thayer and Kerr clearly pioneered the ideas that formed the basis of dazzle camouflage, it was the ideas of Norman Wilkinson that the admiralty board eventually adopted. In recognition of his efforts a post-war award of £2000 was given to him, acknowledging him as the inventor of dazzle camouflage.

The Second World War

Despite the evidence, there was at the time no consensus as to the advantage of using dazzle camouflage, however, Allied naval authorities were sufficiently impressed to continue to employ the idea on both warships and their respective merchant fleets in WWII. The Imperial German Navy had shown little interest in camouflaging their vessels during the Great War and it wasn’t until the Second World War during the invasion of Norway in 1940 that the Germans embraced the possibility of employing the dazzle concept. Photographic evidence of the period shows the hull of the Bismarck painted in a monochrome pattern of dark grey or black and white stripes continuing up onto the superstructure, with the prow and stern area painted black. The intention was to disguise the length of the battleship, creating the impression of a smaller vessel. The heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen was almost identically camouflaged along the waist with extremes of the bow and stern also painted in black, and the battleships Scharnhorst and Admiral Scheer adopted individual dazzle patterns to mask their identities from Allied naval forces. For whatever reason the Kriegsmarine returned to the format of light or dark grey overall for all warships after 1941, whether the senior staff of Oberkommando der Marine were skeptical of the capabilities of geometric camouflage, or whether there were other reasons for the return to pre-war coloring, remains open to debate.

German battleship Bismarck in a Norwegian fjord, 21 May 1941, shortly before departing for her Atlantic sortie. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Location is probably Grimstadfjord, just south of Bergen. Bismarck’s camouflage was painted over before she departed the area. (NHHC # NH 69720)

While the German navy discarded dazzle camouflage in the early stages of the war, the Allied navies continued its widespread use throughout hostilities until 1945. After continued analytical and evaluative groundwork at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C., dazzle camouflage was deemed to be of merit and a phased roll-out was endorsed across respective fleets. In contrast to the Kriegsmarine’s employment of marine camouflage, as an anti-ship/submarine initiative, the U.S. Navy and to a lesser extent the navies of Britain and Canada attempted to use the bold patterns to disrupt attacks by enemy air assets as well as surface ships and submarines. By continuing the geometric shapes across the decks and superstructures of warships. Each ship was painted in its own distinctive camouflage to prevent the enemy from identifying a class of ship, resulting in a diverse array of patterns which made it considerably more difficult to evaluate its effectiveness.

The U.S. Navy implemented the scheme across most classes of vessel from minesweepers and patrol craft to aircraft carriers. Rigorous design, planning and testing was applied to each pattern and a standardized range of colors and shapes were instituted and applied across all theaters including the Pacific, specifically against the Kamikaze threat.

Camouflage pattern sheet, Measures 31- 32-33, Design 3A, for Essex (CV-9) class carriers. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships/Wikimedia Commons)

The Royal Navy’s use of dazzle commenced at the beginning of 1940 and was considerably less organised. The admiralty adopted a somewhat laissez-faire attitude to the idea and paint schemes were unofficial and individual to each vessel. It was not until later in the war that the admiralty saw fit to take a more serious view of dazzle camouflage and the navy’s concealment specialists devised geometric patterns which became known as the Western Approaches Schemes, to be employed against the sub-sea threat in the Atlantic. The initiative was developed, and the Admiralty Intermediate Disruptive Pattern was employed in 1942 and was superseded in 1944 by the Admiralty Standard Schemes.

The proliferation of black and white photographic images which have been left to historical posterity, while starkly delineating the vivid lines and curves of dazzle camouflage, are unable to convey the range of color and tone so important to the process of deception. Striking shades of blues, reds, greens and purples contrasted with the light and dark grays which made the experiment so effective.

Eventually post-war technological advances in rangefinding equipment and radar rendered dazzle camouflage largely obsolete, and it fell out of favor in post-war naval thinking.

Was Dazzle Camouflage Effective?

Establishing the effectiveness of Wilkinson’s ideas is almost impossible, not least due to the sheer number of variables to be considered such as color, pattern, and the combination of sizes of ships, vessel speed, and the anti-submarine evasion tactics used. An article in the April 1919 edition of Popular Science considered dazzle camouflage an effective tactic in confusing U-Boat commanders although only at short range and less so than what it termed “low visibility” camouflage.

Arguments continue into the present as to the results of gaudy geometric shapes in protecting ships at sea, but it might certainly be considered the most striking example of art being used to develop a solution in war.

While the United States Navy declared in 1918 that statistical evidence suggested less than one percent of merchant vessels painted in dazzle were sunk, these claims are difficult to substantiate. The testimony of U-Boat commanders who had launched attacks against merchant vessels painted in dazzle camouflage suggests that it was a highly effective countermeasure, even to the point of confusing the issue of the type of ships being attacked and the number of vessels in a convoy. Those convoys that were hit suffered less serious damage than those  that were not camouflaged.

While debate over the capabilities of dazzle camouflage continues among naval historians, perhaps the final word should come from the man who officially invented the concept. In an article published in 1920 in the Journal of the Royal Society of the Arts, Norman Wilkinson stated that “The German Admiralty had dazzle painted a liner and had attached her to the submarine training depot at Kiel,” while at the close of hostilities, “a number of the surrendered submarines were painted in precisely the same manner as our merchant vessels.” It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it is this observation by Norman Wilkinson that may answer the question of the worth of dazzle camouflage.

Mark Wood served 15 years in the communications branch of the Royal Navy, with further service in HM Coastguard. After leaving the military he qualified as a history teacher and divides his time between the education sector and working as a freelance writer for military history magazines and websites. Mark is also currently engaged on the Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea project as a volunteer with the UK’s National Archives.

Featured Image: French cruiser Gloire in dazzle camouflage. (Department of the Navy, Naval Photographic Center)