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Our Debating Military: Here, If You’re Looking

“Not a military voice is heard calling for thoughtful, substantive change.”

-William S. Lind, “An Officer Corps That Can’t Score”

Will, “hello,” suffice? William S. Lind’s suggestion at The American Conservative Magazine that the Officer Corps is in a blind, intellectual death spiral is weighty indeed, but ignores the vast body of debate going on in the junior and senior ranks of our nation’s military. Rather than our officer corps living in a bubble, perhaps some of those discussing the internal debate of the military writ-large need to reach out of their bubble to see the rich discussion happening -right now-.

“Even junior officers inhabit a world where they hear only endless, hyperbolic praise of “the world’s greatest military ever.” They feed this swill to each other and expect it from everyone else. If they don’t get it, they become angry.”

-William S. Lind, “An Officer Corps That Can’t Score”

Mr. Lind accuses our Officer Corps of a hollow, cavalier attitude that would suggest they neither recognize nor wrestle with the threats of tomorrow or the mistakes of today. Ask any moderately informed officer on their thoughts about cyber-war, the F-35, LCS, insurgency, the utility of carriers, the proliferation of anti-ship cruise-missiles, etc.. and the opinions will be heated and varied. The Center for International Maritime Security has featured an entire week debating the merits of the Navy’s,“Air Sea Battle,” concept. The United States Naval Institute archives decades of articles relating to the debate over carriers. Small Wars Journal is a running testament to the continued debate over insurgency and irregular ground conflicts. There are also sometimes-anonymous outlets, like the Sailor Bob forum, Information Dissemination, or the wild wonderful world of Commander Salamander’s blog; they are quite popular in -light- of the often unique and critical perspective taken by writers.

The self-hate created by my blog's criticism is overwhelming me!
The self-hate generated by my awareness of challenges to US might is overwhelming me!

The majority of these articles are written by officers, with the approval or non-interference of their leadership. Of course, not all military leadership is necessarily embracing criticism, but that is natural to any top-down organization. We’ve made great strides. The Navy released the Balisle Report on its critical issues with maintenance. CDR Snodgrass’ 24 page study on retention is now a topic of wide debate encouraged by VADM Moran, Chief of Naval Personnel. If, as Mr.Lind describes, our officer corps had a comical “hulk-smash” reaction to suggestions of US Military weaknesses or institutional flaws, we’d have long ago beaten ourselves to rubble in the haze of an insatiable rage.

“What defines a professional—historically there were only three professions, law, medicine, and theology—is that he has read, studied, and knows the literature of his field. The vast majority of our officers read no serious military history or theory.”

-William S. Lind, “An Officer Corps That Can’t Score”

Gen. Mattis says we should have a 2000 year old brain... so we can shred triple-neck guitars.
Gen. Mattis says we should have a 2000 year old brain… so we can shred triple-neck guitars.

Mr.Lind suggests that our modern-day officers live in a historical desert, in which the lessons of yester-year are lost. I would suggest those doubters of the military’s historical memory look to the USS PONCE and the Navy’s re-embrace of sea-basing. Thomas J Cutler’s “Brown Water, Black Beret” is an excellent primer on the historical lessons the Navy is re-applying. Perhaps we might highlight the Navy and Marine Corps’ dual scholar-heroes of ADM Stavridis (ret) and Gen Mattis (ret): admired for both their acumen in the field and their rarely equaled study of the history of conflict

Mahan, ideating before it was cool. Photo-shop Credit: Matt Hipple

Perhaps Mr.Lind is disappointed in our lack of engagement with Mahan, in which case I would direct him to LCDR Benjamin Armstrong’s book, “21st Century Mahan.” Perhaps Clausewitz is our flaw? The Army and Air Force officers writing at “The Bridge” would likely demolish THAT center of gravity, if the snarky Doctrine Man doesn’t get there first. Perhaps we have not learned the importance of innovation from history! The military’s 3-D printing labs located around the country would likely raise their eyebrows in bemusement.

A Cleveland native myself, I understand how far Hampton Roads is from Mr.Lind’s home on the Northern Shore. However, anyone like Mr.Lind who doubts the military, officer or enlisted, is interested in tackling the issues should make every attempt to visit the June Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEFx) Conference in Norfolk. From flag officers to those who paint the flagstaff, the gamut of our service will be on location, out of uniform, debating our technical and institutional challenges in an unofficial and free forum. He may even meet some members of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC). If Norfolk is a bridge to far, I’d encourage the doubters to sign up for membership at the Center for International Maritime Security. We have weekly meetings in DC where we talk about everything from Professional Military Education to drone operations.

Courtesy of CIMSEC author, Nicolas di Leonardo.
Courtesy of CIMSEC author, Nicolas di Leonardo.

The military is by no means perfect, but such imperfection is what drives the debate that both officers and enlisted are engaging in on a daily basis. Mr.Lind suggests interesting structural reform to better cultivate leadership in our officers. However he cites the need for such reforms based on a decrepit caricature of an officer corps the US Military is not saddled with. If one hasn’t, as a USNI author once told me, “done one’s homework,” ideas fall flat. There IS a debate happening in America’s Officer Corps, an educational and engaging one. We’re not too hard to find if you look.

 

Matthew Hipple is an active duty officer in the United States Navy. He is the editor of the NEXTWAR blog at the Center for International Maritime Security, host of the Sea Control podcast, and a writer for USNI’s Proceedings, War on the Rocks, and other forums. He would like to also give a nod to his friends at the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, The Bridge, Doctrine Man, Athena Project, CDR Salamander Blog, Information Dissemination, Small Wars Journal, CRIC, and others who did not realize that they, like he, apparently do not exist.

PMCs: The End or the Beginning?

This feature is special to our Private Military Contractor (PMC)’s Week – a look at PMCs’ utility and future, especially in the maritime domain.

The National Intelligence Council’s report Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds released in December 2012 revealed trends, game-changers, and potential worlds that have relevance to maritime security.  Two of the four mega-trends identified were individual empowerment and diffusion of power.  Two game-changers will be a governance gap (or previously suggested maritime security shadow zones) and the potential for increased conflict.  It suggests one potential future of a “Non-state World” in which non-state actors take the lead in confronting global challenges.  If this is the future, where the power of traditional states erodes or collapses and individuals and illicit organizations are super-empowered, private maritime security companies could be far more employed than they have been in the past decade.

The quick rise of PMSCs in the past decade was due primarily to the threat of non-state actors—in this case Somali pirates operating off the Horn of Africa.  Before the shipping industry responded to changes in its Best Management Practices and states began devoting more air and surface naval platforms to the region, individuals identified an opportunity in maritime security and formed companies.   Whether they are mercenaries or entrepreneurs can be left to a discussion in the classroom or comments, but the reality is that the immediate threat to shipping was real and growing by 2006.

The companies themselves were analogous to dining in a large city.  In the first category are the four and five star restaurants with superior ingredients and preparation, excellent service, but very costly.  The second category includes standard restaurants.  The third might be diners— affordable food, quick turn-around on service, and a dependable location.  The last category is the street vendors.  Because they have no infrastructure other than a mobile cart and they may not carry the best ingredients, their costs are extremely low.  But there is a market for each of these categories.

The same has been true of PMSCs.  Some are highly rated among the industry for the quality of their security personnel (such as former SAS and Navy SEALs), high-performance gear, and company infrastructure.  These are the higher priced five-star restaurants.  But as the industry emerged, it seemed anyone would join in if they had a cell-phone and an email address.  Even experienced, qualified operators made attempts to form their own companies.  Peter Cook, founder and director of the Security Association of the Maritime Industry (SAMI) suggested that this is one reason why the number of PMSCs has dropped in recent years as the number of piracy incidents off Somalia have declined.  “New businesses fail at a high rate,” he said in a recent interview.  “You have operators who might not have the business background necessary to administer all the paperwork that’s involved in setting up and operating a maritime security company.”

According to Cook, the number of PMSCs peaked in 2011 when eleven new PMSCs were applying every month for membership in SAMI.  While there were an estimated thirty-five to fifty companies in 2010, SAMI now has about 160 members.  The industry became highly competitive and very litigious.  With some twenty to twenty-five percent of overcapacity in the shipping industry, shippers are trying to find ways to reduce costs and prices.  When threats by Somali pirates resulted in far higher insurance rates, shipping companies reluctantly turned to protection from armed guards.  At their height in 2008 to 2009, some PMSCs could charge $5,000 per day for a four-man team; today that price is down to about $3,500.  Since, to date, not ship with an armed team has been taken by pirates, that investment more than offset the potential of paying hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in ransom.

Although some in the industry argue that incidents of piracy remain unreported or underreported in order for companies to avoid higher insurance rates, the fact is that Somali piracy has dropped precipitously.  As a result, Cook notes, there has been a major consolidation of PMSCs.  That is not to say they will disappear or their work will not expand.  To the contrary, they will likely be more necessary in the coming decades for several reasons.

First, long-time state navies with global projection (such as European nations or even the United States) are likely to diminish in size and projection capability due to increased domestic funding demands.  Second, increasing competition for scarce resources and changing demographics will lead to greater instability among underdeveloped nations, particularly those along coastlines.  Third, greater need for energy will result in more off-shore oil and gas platforms (currently twenty-five percent of all oil and gas platforms are off-shore such as those in the Gulf of Guinea.)  Fourth, as one presenter at a recent Naval War College symposium suggested, a greater need for food sources will result in aqua-farming areas.  Simply put, less maritime security capabilities by states and increased needs for security will lead to a greater reliance on PMSCs.

What does this mean for the United State?  Most importantly, the nation will have to work with the industry in ensuring it is regulated and accountable.  With Somali piracy, the country – like many European countries – was opposed to the use of PMSCs or at least did not recognize them.  Public officials and senior military now recognize the partial role they have played off the Horn of Africa.  The industry has already begun to self-regulate internationally.  Operators quickly share information with each other on the reputation of firms and which ones should be avoided.  In addition, organizations like SAMI provide standards such as certifications as a vetting conduit between PMSCs and the shipping industry.

In the coming decades, maritime security will be far more complex.  Absent sufficient state navies and coast guard forces, PMSCs may well be the only alternative to ensuring platforms and regions have some semblance of security.

Claude Berube teaches naval history at the United Stated Naval Academy and is the author or co-author of several books including “Maritime Private Security” and his debut novel “The Aden Effect.”  In December 2013, CIMSEC published his article and interview regarding “Civilian Warriors”.  He is the immediate past chair of the editorial board of U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings.

Follow @cgberube

Whither the Private Maritime Security Companies of South and Southeast Asia?

This feature is special to our Private Military Contractor (PMC)s Week – a look at PMCs’ utility and future, especially in the maritime domain.

In a week-long operation in June 2010, 6 vessels were attacked and robbed over a 130-mile span while in a nearby strait armed security contractors kept watch for the pirate threat.1 The same waters have played host to a “sophisticated syndicate…deploying speedboats from motherships” with raiding parties able to “board, rob, and disembark a vessel with fifteen minutes without the bridge knowing.”2 The location was not the Somali coastline or the Bab el-Mandeb, but rather 4,000 miles to the east, among the Anambas Islands and the Singapore Strait.

2011 Crude Oil Flows through Southeast Asia. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.
2011 Crude Oil Flows through Southeast Asia. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.

For the past decade or so, when people thought of private military contractors (PMCs)3 they typically thought of land-force outfits like the Academi formerly known as Blackwater and its founder Erik Prince. During this same period, the word “piracy” generally brought to mind skiffs plying the waters of the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Guinea. Others have written elsewhere on this site that some of the more interesting uses of PMCs during this timeframe have in fact been in combating (or attempting to combat) the now-diminished pirate scourge off East Africa in the form of private maritime security companies (PMSCs). Yet historically one of the greatest epicenters of piracy has been in the waters of South and Southeast Asia. If the region, already home to PMSCs operating in a variety of capacities and more than one-third of the world’s seaborne-oil trade, faces a resurgence of piracy, it may see a similar growth in PMSCs.4 This article will touch briefly on the historic precedents, preconditions encouraging the presence of PMSCs, and regional factors affecting their utility.

Precedents and Prevalence

South and Southeast Asia have long been home to private and quasi-private security arrangements. Cdr. Chris Rawley, U.S. Navy Reserve, notes that “historically, the line between privateering and piracy has been a thin one. From the 15th to the 19th century, pirates were often employed as a political tool by the Malay states to resist colonization by disrupting trade of the British and Dutch. Conversely, in the mid-1800s, the British East India Company’s private armies protected shipping in Malacca from pirates.”

The history of Singapore’s founding and growth under British rule is itself closely tied to this blurred public-private partnership. When the British arrived at Malaysian Singapore and sought local allies to protect their trade and investment, the recently displaced Temenggong, sea lord of the orang laut sea people, who themselves were noted for their marauding maritime prowess, presented himself as an acceptable solution. The Temenggongs thus served as part local officials, pressured to resettle their power base to neighboring Johor, and part maritime security contractors for hire, serving British counter-piracy operations in the early 1800s and port security for Singapore.5

In recent years, PMSCs have provided a range of services in South and Southeast Asia. According to The Diplomat’s Zachary Keck, “PMCs operating in Southeast Asia have primarily been focused on providing maritime security to clients, particularly in combating piracy. This has been especially true in narrow chokepoints like the Malacca Straits” and has included companies such as Background Asia and Counter Terrorism International (CTI).

In addition to providing these escort vessels and transit/cargo security aboard merchant vessels, PMSCs have worked extensively on port security (Gray Page, Pilgrim Elite, and the Glenn Defense Marine Asia group now know for the ‘Fat Leonard’ scandal), training and maritime hardening efforts (Trident Group), crisis response, and fisheries protection in countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs) (Hart).6 PMSC experts James Bridger and Claude Berube remark that in contrast with Africa, the companies in South and Southeast Asia place a greater focus on port vs transit security, due in part to the prevalence of at-berth and in-port crime, as well as training, vessel hardening, and security planning.

Preconditions

Attacks and attempts in 2013: South Asia and Southeast Asia. Source: IMB.
Attacks and attempts in 2013: South Asia and Southeast Asia. Source: IMB.

What conditions have given rise to this most recent cast of companies? In Carolin Liss’s 2011 book Oceans of Crime, she attributes the rise of PMSCs in South and Southeast Asia to several factors including states divesting former functions and the changed security landscape. This includes relatively more powerful transnational actors, both those interested in stability such as multinational corporations and multilateral institutions and those, such as terrorist organizations, interested in the opposite. Another element of the changed landscape facilitating PMCs’ rise is to Liss the disappearance of the Cold War struggle between the United States and Soviet Union, and the attendant opportunities for training of regional security forces.7 Further, post-Cold War terrorism heightened the focus of governments and the shipping industry on maritime security, as the threat joined piracy as a perceived regional risk to maritime assets, although it has so far failed to be nearly as impactful.8

In general PMSCs may find a market whenever the threats to maritime assets – be they from criminals, separatists, or environmental, corporate, or territorial disputes – appear to outweigh states’ capacities to safeguard those assets. The perception of corruption or distrust of the competency and fairness of states’ protective functions will similarly further the reception for external services.

How do these threat measures stack up in South and Southeast Asia? The first thing to note is the wide variance among the nations and waters of the region – as can be expected from such an diverse expanse generalities are hard to come by, so the following is a survey rather than a summation of the area.

With regards to the historical scourge of piracy, a recent report by the insurance firm Allianz made headlines for describing a 700 percent rise in actual and attempted attacks occurring in Indonesian waters in a 5-year span, from 15 in 2009 to 106 in 2013,9 although most of these were robberies at berth or at anchor.10 The International Maritime Bureau (IMB)’s April 2014 update notes that Indonesian “Pirates / robbers are normally armed with guns, knives and, or machetes…attacking vessels during the night.”11 Derived from IMB statistics, the Allianz report also notes that in 2013 South Asia’s 26 incidents and Southeast Asia’s 128 combined to far outstrip Africa’s total of 89 incidents, with only 7 of the latter considered acts of Somali piracy.12

Attacks and Attempts in 2013. Source: IMB.
Attacks and Attempts in 2013. Source: IMB.

While privation is often portrayed as a leading spur for illicit maritime activities, analyst Karsten von Hoesslin contends that groups  operating in Southeast Asia exhibit “more sophistication and structural coordination, reflecting the existence of organizations that go well beyond opportunistic marauders seeking to merely compensate for economic hardship.”13 In 2012 von Hoesslin noted such syndicates active in the Philippines, conducting kidnapping and robbery (K&R) operations, with robbery and hijacking organizations plentiful in Indonesia’s Anambas Islands and Riau Islands Archipelago.14

On the other hand, IMB’s April 2014 update demonstrates the fluid nature of piracy, stating only three years later that “attacks have dropped significantly in the vicinity off Anambas / Natuna / Mangkai islands / Subi Besar / Merundung area” and “dropped substantially” in the Strait of Malacca since 2005, although no such improvement is noted for the Singapore Straits.15 The year 2005 is significant as the year that Gerakan Aceh Merdaka (GAM) separatists and previous perpetrators of maritime assaults at the entrance to the Malacca Strait signed a post-Tsunami peace accord with the Indonesian government.16

Attacks and Attempts in 2014 to April. Source: IMB.
Attacks and Attempts in 2014 to April. Source: IMB.

The assets most at risk in Southeast Asia are in general not the more than 60,000 tankers and container vessels that ply the waters but tugs and other small vessels with low freeboards. Nonetheless, Erek Sanchez, a maritime security contractor, notes that insurance companies now require nearly all merchant vessels to “have a security team aboard or have a proven static anti-boarding mechanism that satisfies the requirements set by the insurance company,” meaning there is plenty of business to be had.

Adding to PMSCs’ potential in the region is the lack of enthusiasm for joint patrols by multinational forces in and around Indonesian waters due to sensitivity of competing territorial claims. While understandable from a sovereignty perspective, vessels must as a result rely on the prospect of the strengthening of individual naval forces or seek additional protection.

Although the majority of attacks in the region – whether at sea, at anchor, or in port – are short-run robberies, when hijackings do occur they are often inside jobs. An interesting variant on hijackings occurs in the Sulu Sea between rival fishing companies who “attempt to deplete the maritime assets and platforms of their competitors.”17 This points to another factor that might increase the region’s potential for PMSCs – that of maritime resource competition.

According to Rawley, “Poorly managed fisheries and maritime crime in SE Asia are inextricably linked. In the 1990s, over-fishing partially caused the loss of livelihood of coastal communities that contributed to the surge in piracy near Malacca. Southeast Asian countries that cannot afford adequate coast guards might reach out to NGOs or PMCs for fisheries enforcement patrols in their territorial waters.” 

Taken together, the sustained incidence of piracy and robbery, especially near Indonesian waters, along with resource competition between companies, states, and fishermen indicates that there will be a ready market for PMSCs in the region for some time to come. In Part 2 I will look at factors that might lessen the need for or hinder the operations of PMSCs in South and Southeast Asia, as well as provide a brief outlook on their future uses in the region. 

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.

1. Risk Intelligence, “2010 Statistics Fact File.” Marisk.dk 
2. Karsten von Hoesslin, “Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea in Southeast Asia: Organized and Fluid,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism (2012): 35:7-8, 542-552: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1057610X.2012.684652
3. I use this term interchangeably with private security contractors (PSCs). 
4. U.S. Energy Information Administration estimate of 2011, updated April 4th, 2013: http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=10671
5. Carl A. Trocki, Prince of Pirates: The Temenggongs and the Development of Johor and Singapore, 1784-1885 (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2007), 24.
6. Carolin Liss, Oceans of Crime: Maritime Piracy and Transnational Security in Southeast Asia and Bangladesh (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011), 331.
7. Ibid, 323.
8. Ibid, 327.
9. “Safety and Shipping Review 2014,” Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, 27: http://www.agcs.allianz.com/assets/PDFs/Reports/Shipping-Review-2014.pdf
10. Attacks in territorial waters, whether against vessels underway, at anchor, or moored, by definition under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) are not considered pirate attacks and when possible I will attempt to distinguish between sea robbery and piracy, although the terms are frequently conflated. 
11. International Maritime Bureau: http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre/prone-areas-and-warnings
12. Allianz, 27
13. Von Hoesslin, 541-542.
14. Ibid, 544.
15. IMB.
16. Von Hoesslin, 545. 
17. Ibid, 545.

 

DC Chapter’s April Meet-Up

Spider Kelly's

Join our DC Chapter for our April DC-area informal meet-up/happy hour.  We will be meeting at Spider Kelly’s by the Clarendon metro stop.  We hope you’ll join us for a night of interesting people and interesting discussion.

Time:   Wednesday, 23 Apr 5:30-9pm
Place:   Spider Kelly’s
3181 Wilson Blvd.,  Arlington VA 22201
Clarendon Metro (Orange Line)

All are welcome – RSVPs not required, but appreciated: director@cimsec.org