CIMSEC “Private Military Contractor Week” has generated several pieces including the two part commentary “America Should End Mercenary Contracts”. Any discussion about PMCs can generate visceral reactions, especially given their activities in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade. Nevertheless, the possibility of their growing presence in the 21st century maritime environment suggests a healthy debate and a more accurate reflection of the issues is required. Consequently, “America Should End Mercenary Contracts” has several issues which ought to be deliberated and clarified in this forum.
What’s in a Name
The article, in the second paragraph, may be confusing the private military contractors of the Executive Outcomes to the PMCs in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the case of the former, PMCs were reportedly used for offensive operations while in the latter case PMCs were ostensibly used or intended for more defensive purposes such as the protection of convoys. As a result, it is the latter which is more similar to the firms employed in maritime security and, thus, the subject of CIMSEC’s PMC Week. Land-based and maritime-based PMCs have inherently different missions. Maritime security companies were not hunting down pirates off Somalia, for example. They provide on-board defense security. To date, as several senior Obama administrations have admitted, no ship with an armed guard contingent has been taken by pirates.
Although the author suggests that these modern mercenaries are privateers, that is likewise an inaccurate term for two reasons. First, privateers were issued letters of marque by states. Most maritime security companies today have a direct fiduciary and contractual relationship with shipping companies and not, by and large, states. Second, privateers were issued those letters of marque to actively attack enemy commerce during wartime. As stated earlier, maritime security companies have a more defensive role and do not seek out illicit organizations.
All My Sons
The author’s criticism of the private sector is understandable. Historically, many did not behave ethically; as a result, government regulations ensure basic foods were untainted, children were not used in the labor force, and reasonable work weeks were the standard. The article states that “to maximize its profits, Mercenaries ‘R Us declines to armor its contractors,” etc. This is a legitimate issue, but it is also legitimate to discuss the role of the federal government in which contracting officers seek out the lowest-bid among various contractors. Or consider that the U.S. went into Afghanistan with “the army you have—not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time,” as then-Secretary Rumsfeld noted when the military sent in vehicle that failed to be up-armored. By contrast, some contractors had the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances on the ground rather than wait the traditional Pentagon acquisition route.
Another criticism by the author of PMCs is that “as long as the stock price stays high and the dividends keep coming, the shareholders are unlikely to have very much concern for the human toll of warfare.” What the author may not be aware of is that most PMCs – certainly maritime security companies – do not have public shareholders; rather they are privately held. But if this argument was valid, should the United States likewise restrict the use of publicly-held military contractors such as General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman because they build the tools and platforms for conducting war? Arguably, if they are accountable, then so might U.S.- or internationally-regulated PMCs. If the author is only discussing the direct actions by individuals providing security, then he might want to walk into any federal building in Washington DC. During a recent visit to the National Archives as I awaited the building to open for researchers, I noted the half-dozen armed guards who were not police. They informed me that their contract gave them jurisdiction to the sidedwalk. Contractors. Armed. In a federal facility.
In addition, the author may not be aware that Congress has already acted on the issue of accountability when it passed the National Defense Authorization Act in October 2007 which modified the Uniform Code of Military Justice which made the UCMJ applicable to PMCs.
This is not unprecedented. During the age of sail, for example, privateers were held as accountable as officers and sailors in the U.S. Navy. For example, the author might benefit from the “Records of General Courts-Martial and Courts of Inquiry of the Navy Department 1799-1867” in which he would find a number of privateers among U.S. navy ships and personnel. For example, the crew of the privateer brig Scourge in Case 196 were tried for pillaging a neutral vessel and assaulting a superior officer. They were tried by a board of navy officers under board president Captain Isaac Chauncey. Those not acquitted received the same punishment as Navy sailors – the lash and forfeiture of their share of prize money. In that era, U.S. Navy officer and sailors also shared in the profits of captured enemy vessels. Nor was this the only case; others were likewise tried for violating the 1800 “Act for the Better Government of the Navy. So PMCs – or rather PMSCs specifically – are and could be held accountable.
Wounded Civilian Warriors
The author states in paragraph 3 that “if the injured PMCs were instead American service members, they would be given medical treatment and rehabilitation through military medicine. The VA, for all its flaws, would attempt to help the wounded recover and restart their life after their injuries. If the fallen were uniformed military, their survivors would be taken care of with survivor benefits. All of these benefits were enacted by Congress to support the men and women who go abroad to do the nation’s work in harm’s way.” Because most maritime security companies are hired directly by shipping companies, this particular statement might not apply. However in the future if the US found itself in a position to hire more armed guards on the few US-flagged ships remaining, then there is precedent for Congress to expand services for them. This includes “An act regulating pensions to persons on board private armed ships” who become wounded or disabled (February 13, 1813), “an act to amend and explain the act regulating pensions to persons on board private armed vessels” (August 2, 1813) and “an act giving pensions to the orphans and widows of persons slain in the public or private armed vessels of the United States (March 3, 1814.) By 1824, the Privateer Pension Fund listed ninety-seven “invalids disabled in action in the line of duty.” The fund was governed by a secretary, John Boyle, who later served as acting Secretary of the Navy.
The issues surrounding PMCs and, specifically, private maritime security companies, are far more complex and demand more attention in the coming decades. The fact is the U.S. and other traditional powers are downsizing their militaries while global and regional security threats are at best constant and at worst growing. While turning toward the private sector for supplementary security in as regulated environment as US military forces may seem distasteful to some, the reality is that without sufficiently right-sized military options, countries and companies will have to turn to their own sources of private security particularly at sea. If the U.S. and partners stick their head in the sand with this issue or dismiss it out of hand, private security will not go away; in all likelihood the vacuum of control and regulation will either expand without appropriate international mechanisms or simply fall upon rising peer-competitors and that may be a far more troubling outcome.
Claude Berube teaches at the United States Naval Academy and is an officer in the Navy Reserve. His third book was “Maritime Private Security: Market Responses to Piracy, Terrorism, and Waterborne Security Risks in the 21st Century. He is the immediate past chair of the editorial board of Naval Institute Proceedings and is writing his doctoral dissertation on Andrew Jackson’s Navy. The views expressed are his own and not those of the Naval Academy or the US government.
Since the end of the Cold War, the Surface Navy has supported contingency operations around the globe, and done so exceptionally. Even so, some would argue that these operations have drawn us away from our basic warfighting skills – skills that have defined the United States as the world’s elite Surface Navy over the past 70 years.
In the area of Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) community must recapture that professionalism and intensity that drove us to become the premier ASW force in the 1970s and ‘80s — demonstrated time and again against the Soviet threat. We must dominate our Inner Screen while also correctly expanding our reach in the undersea domain.
Honed by years of experience and technological leaps, first in World War II and then again during the Cold War, ASW tactics and technology aligned with Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) as the focus of the destroyer force. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the submarine threat diminished and the Surface Warfare community shifted our focus from ASW to support other emerging mission areas. The Surface force created VBSS boarding teams and manned crew-served weapons out of hide, and also honed our ability to execute Tomahawk strike missions to a fine and precision art form, while other nations instead determined to field a credible undersea force invested in capability and capacity.
As a result, our ASW proficiency suffered, as our ASW experience-based knowledge dwindled to the point where the Navy would have been challenged against a modern-day subsurface threat. We lost our foil and also our operational training opportunities that presented themselves every time our ships got underway. We no longer had the opportunity to train in real world track and trail events against a YANKEE, NOVEMBER, or VICTOR Class Submarine from the moment we left the sea buoy. Those opportunities were especially important in maintaining our complex skills required in the ASW arena, such as passive target motion analysis and active Convergence Zone (CZ) search and detection.
Today, with our renewed emphasis and shift to the Pacific, the Surface Navy must reclaim the ASW battle space if we are going to be successful in this new era.
The Evolving Threat
Recognizing the disruptive challenge submarines pose to our aircraft carriers and other high value assets, China, North Korea, and Iran have invested in a significant undersea capability and capacity. Real world events in the Western Pacific and in the Persian Gulf serve as regular examples as to why the United States must maintain the resolve to invest in our Surface Navy to maintain a preeminent ASW capability. From the Surface ASW perspective, quieter submarines, emerging submarine tactics, and advanced weapons are potential challenges to our Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) operational concepts – and to the Surface force’s ability to own the Inner Screen and defend the Strike Group. To meet this evolving threat and maintain our naval dominance — We Must Adapt.
Surface ASW Response
Recognizing the need to counter the emerging threat, the Surface Navy began using a method similar to the commercial sector allowing for timely and affordable modernization of our ASW capability with Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware systems and Open Architecture (OA) software. We recognize our ASW operators require the best and most advanced tools available – and we have invested heavily in every aspect of that ASW kill chain.
Improvements include hardware and software upgrades to kinetic weapons such as the advanced Mk 54 Lightweight Torpedo that integrates with the MH-60R multi-mission helicopter; sensors, such as the Multi-Function Towed Array and the SPQ-9B Periscope Detection and Discrimination kit; advanced processing and display capabilities to increase operator recognition while leveraging the skill sets already developed in our Sailors; as well as the high fidelity trainers being delivered to the fleet today.
Today, 30 SQQ-89 A(V)15 ASW Combat Systems have reached the fleet and by 2020 there will be 64. That steady increase in capacity requires an equally steady application of financial resources, through which the Surface community has approached development of the ASW Combat System in a similar fashion to the continuous development and improvement of the AEGIS Combat System.
With the emergence of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) in the fleet, ASW operations will expand beyond the Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer (DDG) and Ticonderoga-class Cruiser (CG) in both an individual and additive manner. LCS, well suited to succeed in challenging littoral environments with its ASW Mission Package, will also support ASW escort missions. The combination of LCS and CRUDES ASW capabilities will significantly expand the reach of the ASW force, allowing it to operate in distinctly different environs in the open ocean and littorals while also enabling the DDG or CG to engage in other mission areas without sacrificing an ASW asset. The ASW capability realized by combining a Variable Depth Sonar with a Multi-Function Towed Array, plus the processing and display functionality of the A(V)15 system and the engagement capability of the onboard helo, provides a return on investment many times over.
Providing the US Navy with ASW capability takes more than hardware and software. Essential to successful ASW is the shipboard team that can exploit the capability being delivered as well as understand the environment affecting their system. This has always been true – but given the technologies being employed in today’s systems, and the threat we face at sea, our Sailors must be more technically and operationally savvy than ever before.
This requirement demands more time, both in port and at sea, to train in the skillsets unique to ASW. High fidelity unit level and shore based trainers delivered to the fleet facilitate this training, and add an element of at-sea realism to challenge even the most experienced operators. For the first time, the Navy can conduct high quality training both underway and in-port thru the A(V)15’s high fidelity Surface ASW Synthetic Trainer (SAST). SAST is also being integrated into a new shore based trainer to allow realistic watch team in-port training tailored to the specific skillset needed.
Understanding how the environment impacts your craft is critical to successful employment of your systems. Our schoolhouse training is being tailored to more effectively deliver basic and advanced operator and employment training. The Navy is also reinvigorating the Afloat Training Groups (ATG) with knowledgeable experts – they will be the key enablers, helping our young operators translate the schoolhouse training into operational experience with the necessary skills of this core competency.
ASW Command & Control and Today’s Inner Screen
An important element of owning the inner screen has been our partnering with other communities in the more distant ASW fight. The DESRON Sea Combat Commander embarked in the aircraft carrier (CVN) owns the Strike Group ASW problem, and they work that challenge in company with the Theater ASW Commander to coordinate what has become a broader definition of that inner screen’s boundary. Previously defined by the torpedo danger zone and our own acoustic detection ability, today’s inner screen has expanded based on the evolved submarine and longer range threats, and also a more diverse and more capable portfolio of our own CSG assets. This theater level of coordination requires a modernized set of tools including the Undersea Warfare Decision Support System (USW-DSS), and also a more agile and ready surface ASW force. Surface Navy’s continued investment in ASW is integral to furthering that coordination and enabling our success at sea.
Tactical ASW superiority is a critical enabler to maintain Forward Presence and Sea Control, and support Power Projection and Deterrence. This begins with owning the CSG’s Inner Screen, and enabling the broader ASW environment through coordinated operations with the Theater ASW Commander. Surface Warfare is perfectly postured to lead, plan and execute that Inner Screen, and use our capacity, on-station time, and command and control ability as enablers in the larger, theater ASW fight. Our investments in systems, training, and people have positioned us to reassert our mastery of this critical warfighting capability. The time is now for the Surface force to rededicate itself to this most central of missions. After all, the world’s most lethal power projection Navy cannot do its job if the water it operates in is threatened from below.
Captain Charlie Williams is the Deputy for Weapons and Sensors, Surface Warfare Directorate (N96). He commanded USS FIREBOLT (PC 10), USS STETHEM (DDG 63) and Destroyer Squadron FIFTEEN (CDS-15). As the Commodore in CDS-15, he served as the GEORGE WASHINGTON Strike Group Sea Combat Commander and Strike Force ASW Commander, and subsequently served as the Seventh Fleet Chief of Staff.
In the first part of this article we briefly explored the long history of private maritime security companies (PMSCs) in South and Southeast Asia, as well as the conditions most conducive to their sustainment and growth. In part two we look at regional factors that have or could lessen the threats to which PMSCs provide services in response – including government action, capacity building, and legal regimes – and will conclude with final thoughts on the outlook for PMSCs in the region.
Lessening the Prospects for PMSCs
Perhaps the largest mitigating factor for PMSCs’ prospects is the whether governments will themselves tackle the underlying issues, including economic development, instability, and corruption, and/or their outgrowths that PMSCs attempt to address, such as piracy and maritime crime. This factor consists of and can be measured by both the desire and ability of governments to take on these challenges.
As discussed in part one, levels of piracy and armed robbery (PAR) and kidnapping and ransom (K&R) against ships have been two of the main determinants of the market for PMSCs in the region and the frequency, severity, and locations of these attacks have varied over the recent decades. This dynamic owes in part to several measures undertaken by regional governments beyond those development efforts aimed at removing the economic basis for crimes. What follows is not intended as an exhaustive catalogue, but an attempt to highlight some of the most illustrative examples.
In coming to terms in the post-Tsunami peace agreement, Indonesia’s government and its Aceh foes removed a major source of instability that opportunistic actors from both sides of the conflict reportedly used for kidnapping and ransom operations at the mouth of the Malacca Strait. Whether attackers’ motives were to provide a revenue stream to further the insurgency, or as a manifestation of corruption, the removal of the combatants – along with the tsunami’s decimation of the local population and maritime assets used in attacks – helps explain the documented drop in numbers by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).1819
Alternately, governments can take direct action against criminals based in their territory as well as demonstrate their willingness to crack down on internal corruption feeding such crime. PMSC expert James Bridger remarks that the Chinese government launched a campaign in the 1990s against “criminal syndicates and ‘rogue’ police and coast guard units that had been engaging in hijackings and phantom ship fraud out of Hong Kong and southern China.” While there are dangers in relying on self-reporting, an area once known as a favorite destination of hijacked vessels re-named for resale,20 Hong Kong, is now known far more for piracy of a digital kind.21
Governments can also work together, and with non-governmental organizations such as the IMB, in the fight against maritime crime. These efforts can be particularly important in preventing criminals from exploiting the seams between territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZs). In 2004 Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia initiated an agreement known as the Trilateral Coordinated Patrol, or MALSINDO, nominally providing smarter coverage by coordinating patrol areas. Illustrating the importance of closing the maritime seams, the agreement was criticized for failing to provide cross-border pursuit permissions due to sovereignty sensitivities.22 As Lino Miani notes in The Sulu Arms Market, “territorial disputes and historical mistrust…undergirds the hesitation to enter into multilateral agreements.”23
In 2005 the three nations of the MALSINDO agreement were joined by Thailand in an attempt to bolster the initiative’s effectiveness by dedicating air assets for maritime air patrol missions with hosted liaison officers in what is known as the Eyes in the Sky (EiS) plan.24 In addition to the capability boost, EiS also marked the first time the nations allowed each other to briefly cross a short ways into their territorial airspace while executing the coordinated mission.25 In 2006 the participating countries combined the two efforts in the new Malacca Straits Patrol Network.26
Another recent example of inter-governmental cooperation helping close maritime seams is the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP). The initiative, which entered into force in 2006, establishes information-sharing and attack reporting procedures among 19 countries and an Information Sharing Centre (ISC).27
Yet Malaysia and Indonesia are notably absent from ReCAAP. In another move seen as indicative of the nations’ territorial sensitivities the pair passed on the U.S.-proposed Regional Maritime Security Initiative in 2004, which would have involved Americans in joint patrols including “special forces on high-speed boats.”28 A key difference between these efforts and the Malacca Straits Patrol Network is the involvement of nations external to Southeast Asia. While it doesn’t include Malaysia or Indonesia, ReCAAP involves nations such as Japan, China, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.
Singapore stands in contrast with the two former nations in its openness to long-term partnerships involving a foreign presence. In addition to hosting the ReCAAP’s ISC, it has invited the United States to rotate through a squadron of forward-deployed littoral combat ships, temporarily stationing them at Changi Naval Base, along with the maintenance facility the United States has long maintained in the port.29 An important indicator of the outlook for PMSCs in the coming years will therefore be the receptiveness of these straits nations to maintain or pursue regional approaches to combating maritime crime – as well as their tolerance for joint patrols or a foreign presence.30
Investing in Capacity
Whatever the merits of these regional initiatives in concept, they and individual nations’ efforts require assets to be effective. These assets in turn require investments in procurement, training, and maintenance.31 It’s what separates ReCAAP’s ISC from ASEAN’s Center for Combating Transnational Crime – first proposed in 1997 and stuck on the drawing board ever since.32 Even with the EiS add-on, MALSINDO has been criticized as a public-relations salve lacking the resources to provide comprehensive coverage and hindered by corruption.33
Tracking defense expenditures therefore serves as a similar measure of governments’ seriousness in tackling PAR. While the specifics vary, South and Southeast Asian nations have a large appetite and long-term plans for expanding their coast guards and naval forces – with submarines, patrol craft, and naval aircraft high-priority items.34 Yet the ability to field these maritime forces, and do so effectively, is constrained by limited, though rising, budgets.35 Many of these investments are aimed at protective capabilities in the event of inter-state conflict against the backdrop of China’s own spending increases, but several can also boost maritime enforcement efforts. Key nations including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh, and the Philippines are pursuing corvette or frigate programs, as well as various fast attack and patrol boat procurement.
Indonesia bears closer scrutiny as it faces perhaps the largest PAR threat and is expected to double defense expenditures from 2013 to 2018, after increases of 34 percent in 2011, 16 percent in 2012, and 7 percent in 2013.36 In addition to frigates, the country is also building three classes of fast attack craft that can aid maritime enforcement efforts.37 Further, Indonesia’s military (TNI) announced in March that it would increase its presence around Natuna Island, a former mainstay of piracy to the east of the current hotspots near the Riau Archipelago. While this move is publicly aimed at preventing “infiltration” and “instability” in the South China Sea – primarily to safeguard nearby oil and gas fields – the additional air force and naval assets could act in a secondary capacity to deter PAR to the west when not otherwise engaged.38
Meanwhile at the western approaches to Malacca Strait, India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands could act as the first line of defense against a return to epidemic maritime crime in the strait. India’s Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) is charged with “maritime surveillance, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well as suppressing gun running, narcotics smuggling, piracy, and poaching in India’s EEZ.” Since establishing the ANC in 2001, the India has continued to develop the command’s capacities, albeit at a slow pace, commissioning a new naval air station in 2012 and a new offshore patrol vessel in 2013.39
Yet in the short run, foreign partners or PMSCs may be the easiest capacity-bolstering ways for states to preserve the gains against maritime crime or reduce it further. Help from the former is forthcoming from several corners, potentially limiting the need to turn to PMSCs. India agreed to build four Offshore Patrol Vehicles (OPVs) for Myanmar’s navy, along with a “$100-million credit line to Vietnam to purchase” four patrol boats.40 The United States has recently sold former U.S. Coast Guard cutters to Bangladesh and the Philippines on favorable terms. Japan is likewise “donating” 10 patrol boats to the Philippines, reportedly by extending a $110-million line of credit,41 and Vietnam has asked to procure them as well.42 While there has been no public confirmation of a deal between Japan and Vietnam, including during last month’s bilateral agreement on enhanced maritime security ties, it’s possible that this will be announced during President Obama visit this week to Asia. On Friday the Yomiuri Shimbun cited sources stating that Japan and the U.S. will on Thursday announce moves to jointly help ASEAN countries “strengthen their maritime surveillance capabilities,” “counter piracy,” and “help member states better respond to natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes.”43
A final way for governments to boost their capacity directly mimics PMSCs’ at-sea protection services through what are known as vessel protection detachments (VPDs). These detachments are typically comprised of active duty service members of a nation’s military and hired out to individual shipping companies for protective duties in high risk transit areas or aboard World Food Program vessels.44 While VPDs have faced criticism on legal and efficacy grounds – for blurring the lines between sovereign services and mercenaries and for narrowing protection to individual ships – the list of countries offering VPDs has grown markedly in the past five years, albeit primarily for use along the East African coast.45
The effect of this competition on PMSCs is debatable. On one hand some shipping companies have “voiced a strong preference for VPDs” over PMSCs due to their perceived legal protections and ease of moving weapons.46 As will be discussed below, however, these legal protections have been challenged. Further, according to a 2013 study, only 35% of Dutch ships traversing high risk areas off Somalia applied for a VPD due to the “high costs, lack of flexibility of deployment, and long application schedule.”47 (Figures for Southeast Asia were not available but the business case rationale is likely analogous when available) While those Dutch companies who looked to PMSCs as an alternative did so illegally due the nation’s laws, it’s clear that VPDs will remain attractive to some who would otherwise higher PMSCs.
Legal and Policy Issues
Governments’ legal regimes and policies serve as additional factors directly impacting the prospects of PMSCs in the region on several fronts. When operating in territorial waters, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides little clarity on the legal status or protections for PMSCs performing embarked duties or vessel-protection escorts. The innocent passage regime protects the rights of states in territorial waters, including their transiting warships, but sees armed non-state escort vessels, or private armed on-board detachments as violating the “standard practices” of the international community. No definitive case law has put the matter to rest and the increasing acceptance of armed guards on ships combating Somali-based piracy could lead to a change of acceptance elsewhere, but for the time being the waters remain murky.48
In setting national policies, Indonesia and Malaysia both publicly prohibit the use of armed shipboard PMSC detachments, with Singapore the exception – provided stringent weapons control requirements are followed.49 Carolin Liss notes, however, that despite these pronouncements PMSCs are routinely able to obtain back-channel notifications and permissions, smoothed over with “fees.”50
The varying home laws of the shipping companies also impact the environment for PMSCs in South and Southeast Asia. As mentioned, some states such as the Netherlands currently prohibit PMSCs aboard their vessels. Nonetheless, the trend is clearly towards operating states allowing their use in a regulated process as the Netherlands is the sole E.U. nation without such legislation in place, and a Dutch law that would permit PMSC use in 2015 is in the process of approval.51
Whether PMSC or VPD, Italy’s experience in the Enrica Lexie case is illustrative of the legal dangers in the region facing embarked detachments. In February 2012, two Italian Marines – part of a VPD – shot and killed a pair of Indian fishermen they believed to be pirates. The case has tested the belief that sovereign actors provide greater legal protection for counter-piracy teams in international waters and is still working its way through India’s legal system with a trial date scheduled for July.52
Regional weapons control laws also complicate the logistics of both VPDs and PMSCs. Kevin Doherty, President of Nexus Consulting, a PMSC that operates in Southeast Asia, states that in contrast with ports servicing embarked teams in the western Indian Ocean, “many Asian ports don’t allow weapons to be ‘introduced,’ and must therefore be loaded well in advance.” One outcome is the creation of so-called floating armories in international waters, which come with their own set of complications and regional baggage.
India in particular has expressed concern for these armories. Then-Indian Navy Chief of Staff DK Joshi argued at the 2013 Galle Dialogue they could fall prey to pirates and that they and PMSCs’ lack of international regulation made them susceptible to supporting criminals, traffickers, and terrorists.53 Another on-going case illustrates the complexities and difficulties for PMSCs. After the Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Seaman Guard Ohio entered Indian waters in October 2013 it was escorted to port by an Indian Coast Guard vessel.54 While the Indian government has labelled the vessel operated by U.S.-based PMSC AdvanFort, a floating armory, the company’s spokesman denies the categorization saying the ship serves as an escort vessel that was unable to dispose of its weapons prior to entering port due to the sudden nature of the detainment by the Indian Coast Guard.55
During the same Galle speech, Joshi commended neighboring Sri Lanka for providing what he viewed as a model regulatory regime of both PMSCs and the nation’s government-supported armories. PMSCs can receive licenses from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense to store equipment and weapons on naval bases or on floating armories run in partnership with the government – although these primarily service western Indian Ocean transits.56 Center for Naval Analyses’ Nilanthi Samarankaye says that this stringent effort to control armories through regulation is due in part to the “still fresh” memory of their use by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the Sri Lankan civil war, giving context to the regional fears that unregulated PMSCs and their support networks could have destabilizing side-effects.
Marine Resource Protection
A final area of possible mitigation for PMSCs’ prospects is in the realm of marine resource protection. As The Diplomat’s Zachary Keck notes, PMSCs “have sometimes been used by states to combat illegal fishing in their EEZs. Tensions over fishing rights in Southeast Asian waters have been high and are likely to persist so long as states continue to dispute their maritime borders in places like the South China Sea.”
Yet PMSCs are not alone in seeking to find solutions to these problems. Maritime activism expert Cdr. Chris Rawley, U.S. Navy, points out that “today, pirates, environmental activists, and more legitimate private security contractors compete for some of the same business, especially in the realm of marine wildlife protection.” For example, “Illegal shark finning remains a problem mostly driven by Asian markets that NGOs have expressed an interest in combating.”
It’s a fascinating trilateral confluence of interests which, instead of seeing states hiring PMSCs, could see NGOs outsourcing to PMSCs to achieve their aims, or alternately NGOs becoming more like PMSCs by “selling” their services to nations. In one possible scenario, in exchange for the enforcement of a nation’s territorial claims, an NGO might extract concessions on marine wildlife preservation. As documented by Rawley, some of have already moved towards PMSCs in tactics and capacity if not in business models or motivation.57 Says Keck, “Already, we have seen the Philippines use nominally civilian vessels to resupply their marines on the Second Thomas Shoal in the face of China’s blockade. Thus, there seems to be demand for more innovative solutions to the region’s growing maritime disputes.”
In providing training maritime law enforcement (MLE) to national agencies PMSCs might also run into difficulty. Heather Bacon-Shone, a U.S. Coast Guard officer with experience conducting MLE training in Southeast Asia says PMSCs would have trouble finding an adequate profit and could lack credibility if they don’t hire personnel specific to the mission. “MLE training is as much if not more about laws, legal process, case packages, and reasonable suspicion than it is about kicks, punches, and stuns,” said Bacon-Shone. “What we are really trying to teach them is about the rule of law, not about how to take each other down. It’s a real eye-opener for some that we accomplish so much compliance without having to beat people up.”
Assessing the Outlook
On the balance, the opportunities for PMSCs in South and Southeast Asia appear constrained. “The need for PMSCs is limited,” says Doherty. “The ‘high risk’ zones are only a day or two of transit, not like the 7-10 days in the [western] Indian Ocean or like a week at anchorage in West Africa.” Meanwhile geography might also help prevent a resurgence of piracy in the Strait of Malacca. As Bacon-Shone points out it’s “quite narrow and limited of a space, unlike the Gulf of Aden, which is much harder to patrol and control.” Additionally, “the prospects for PMCs in Southeast Asia may be dimming, remarks Keck, “as tensions over the South China Sea push Southeast Asian nations to develop stronger navies and coast guards, which should reduce demand from commercial entities for private security.”
Nonetheless, PMSCs will not disappear from the scene. Outside the universal need for port security, especially prevalent in the region, there are opportunities in high-value transit protection, training of VPDs and security forces, investigation services, and marine resource protection. And, as we discussed above, Keck says “it’s possible that some of the weaker maritime Southeast Asian nations could hire PMSCs to help patrol the waters they claim. This could be seen as a cheaper or at least quicker, temporary solution to their maritime woes, compared with building up their own naval and coast guard fleets.”
Furthermore, one should never discount the ability of organized crime syndicates to adjust and find new vulnerabilities to exploit. As von Hoesslin stresses, criminal organizations remain “dynamically fluid and capable of adjusting quickly to enforcement pressures.”58 Counter-terrorism too could return as a greater priority and create an opening for PMSCs. “There are a lot of really bad guys reportedly getting out of jail this year in Indonesia,” remarks Doherty, “and the line between piracy and terrorism is not going to be as clear.”
In the “Asian Century,” PMSCs will continue to play a role when threats outpace state capacity. The breadth of that role has yet to be defined.
LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founder and vice president of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), a graduate of Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval War College, and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council.
Sea Control discusses 3D printing this week with James Lambeth from the Navy’s Dam Neck facility and… almost, James Zunino, of Picatinny Arsenal in NJ (if the computer hadn’t eaten the audio). In the latter case, we go over some of the broad-strokes. From simple part adapters for ships to painted-on radios for soldiers to the pains of product certification, we cover what’s going on in two military 3D printing facilities trying to push their new capabilities out to the force.