Tag Archives: Libya

Contested Seas: Maritime Security in Libya

By James Pothecary


On 20 February, the Bahamas-flagged car carrier Morning Compass was seized by militants purporting to represent the Libyan Navy. The ship, which was carrying around 5,000 cars to South Korea, was interdicted by a heavily armed skiff and forced to divert to Misrata port, which is located on the western tip of the Gulf of Sirte. The following day the ship was released and resumed its planned course.

The skiff belonged to fighters loyal to the Tobruk-based administration, an unrecognized government that operates in Libya’s east and which has de facto control over broad swathes of the country. The internationally recognized, United Nations-backed unity government, situated in the capital Tripoli, has its own naval force. Therefore, the Tobruk-based vessel had no authority to detain Morning Compass under international law.

This is the latest in a series of incidents between foreign vessels and armed Libyan craft belonging to both the unity government and non-state armed groups (NSAGs). On 17 August 2016, Libyan naval assets loyal to the unity government attacked the Luxembourg-flagged Bourbon Argos, which had been chartered by the international aid organization, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), to assist refugee rescue efforts in the Mediterranean. The incident occurred in international waters, outside Libya’s territorial claims, and involved Libyan naval forces opening fire on the Bourbon Argos. Accounts vary, with the Libyan Navy claiming the shots were fired in warning, while MSF says that naval forces fired at the bridge.

With refugees and economic migrants using Libya as a springboard to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, there are also suspicions that the Tripoli government is implicated in human trafficking. A 13 December 2016 report by the U.N. Support Mission in Libya reported claims that Libyan Coast Guard forces were participating in migrant smuggling networks, rather than attempting to curtail refugee flows to European shores.

While the report did not detail specific incidents, the lack of regulatory oversight, as well as documented examples of sexual abuse, extortion, and similar activities by Libyan coastguard and naval personnel, means Allan & Associates (A2) assesses these claims as credible.

These two incidents are risk-negative indicators of the security environment in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean links eastern and western markets via the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, North Africa to Europe, and south-western Russia to the rest of the world via the Black Sea. The sea has 22 littoral states, ranging from countries with little to no functional maritime trade, such as Syria, to major trading nations, such as France and Italy. The World Shipping Council’s latest statistics, from 2013, show the Asia-Mediterranean route shipping 6.7 million TEU, and the North Europe-Mediterranean-South America route 1.68 million TEU. Short sea shipping from Spain and Italy alone, according to a 2015 report from the E.U. statistics office, amounted to GWT468.8 million. Therefore, the significance of the Mediterranean to maritime shipping cannot be overstated.

Security Risks

A2 assesses that there is a credible threat of armed vessels, either operating under the auspices of the Libyan military or as NSAGs, interdicting civilian vessels within 50km of the Libyan coastline. This poses a major risk to shipping. Unlike pirate activity elsewhere, such as off the Yemeni coast, it is likely that NSAGs will purport to belong to the Libyan government, either in Tripoli or Tobruk. This complicates any attempt at deploying countermeasures, as it could be unclear whether interdicting vessels are genuine naval or coast guard assets.

In particular, aid organizations using ships to support rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, such as MSF, are at risk of a kinetic incident. This is because such vessels are more likely to be regarded by Libyan armed maritime fighters as interfering in their country’s sovereign affairs. Furthermore, aid ships are constantly present in and around Libyan territorial waters, making it more likely they will be detected by hostile armed maritime forces. Although the 17 August attack against an MSF vessel did not result in casualties, further incidents could have fatal consequences.

The risk is heightened by the lack of professionalism of Libyan maritime forces. Although international actors, including the E.U., are providing some levels of training, this is primarily focused on basic seamanship skills and military capability. Libyan military personnel, therefore, are more likely to overreact when interdicting shipping, and will likely lack the ability to carry out lawful searches without escalation.

Insecure ports

As at sea, so in port. Ports outside of the capital Tripoli have little to no functional governance, and multiple criminal, tribal and political armed groups operate in these areas. Such groups have unilaterally seized several merchant ships. For example, in February 2017, the Turkish-flagged oil tanker Hacı Telli was seized by armed militants in the north-western city of Zuwarah. The militia claimed that the vessel’s owner owed around USD $4,000 to a local company. Eleven crew members are currently being detained on the ship more than a year later.

The Libyan coast and the Gulf of Sirte. (NASA)

Moreover, there is a risk that ships entering ports outside the control of the unity government will be engaged by Libyan military forces. On 5 January 2015, a Libyan fighter aircraft launched an airstrike on the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Araevo, killing two crewmen. The ship, which was carrying crude oil, had been warned by military units not to attempt to enter Derna port, which was under the control of the Tobruk administration. Logistics operators should regularly update bridge officers on which faction controls intended ports of call, and masters should have discretionary authority to alter travel plans, should they believe there is a kinetic risk from Libyan military forces.

These incidents demonstrate that both the Libyan government and NSAGs pose a direct kinetic security risk to shipping calling at Libyan ports, and A2 stresses that maritime operators should carefully consider the feasibility of docking at ports in-country until the security situation markedly improves.

This includes oil terminal installations such as Ras Lanuf and Zuwetina, which are located on the Gulf of Sirte and are beginning to ramp up oil exportation operations. There is ongoing fighting in these areas, and control over the ports is fluid and liable to change with little to no warning.  

Regulatory Attention

Libyan ports are designated by the U.S. Coast Guard as lacking anti-terrorism measures, under the International Port Security Program. Merchant shipping which has previously called at Libyan ports will, therefore, be subjected to increased attention from the U.S. Coast Guard and port authorities.

This will likely include delayed travel times due to additional security checks being conducted on said vessels. A2 notes that merchant vessels can minimize disruption when visiting U.S. ports if masters enact heightened security procedures when in Libyan ports. These measures should include minimizing time spent in port, the deployment of guards at ship entry points, and briefing all hands to observe personal security procedures when ashore.

Ships calling at European ports could also face increased attention from national security forces, due to the poor security environment in Libyan and other North African ports. Masters can minimize the risk of being targeted for inspection by naval or coast guard units by ensuring location transmission devices are kept on at all times, avoiding diverting from pre-established routes and not using flags of convenience.

Supply Chain Integrity

The lawlessness of Libyan ports also poses a secondary risk: illicit cargo will infiltrate legitimate supply routes. Logistics operators should take steps to implement strict chain-of-custody and supply chain integrity rules and procedures for all cargo loaded in Libyan or other North African ports, to mitigate the risk of illicit shipments infiltrating commercial shipping.

Bridge officers should be trained on how to detect suspicious cargo, and all hands should be regularly briefed on their responsibilities under corporate ethics policies and the law. Operators should not rely entirely on customs authorities for supply chain integrity, as it is practically impossible to comprehensively search all ships, and the effectiveness of customs regimes differs markedly between countries.

Search & Rescue

There is an ongoing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea, as refugees from the Middle East and Africa seek to flee by ship to Europe. Libya and other North African countries are a primary staging ground before refugees attempt maritime crossings. The quality of the vessels used is extremely poor, and sinkings are common. Often, this leads to considerable loss of life. Article 98 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea obligates masters to render all assistance to individuals ‘in danger of being lost’ at sea. Diversions in the Mediterranean to assist rescue operations could delay scheduled freight shipments. However, A2 reminds maritime operators of their legal obligations in such circumstances.


A2 assesses that the security environment around the Libyan coast will continue to decline as multiple NSAGs as well as the Libyan Navy skirmish for maritime supremacy. In particular, as oil exportation resumes in the Gulf of Sirte, maritime forces will attempt to gain control of the surrounding ports and waters, due to their increasing strategic importance.

Further kinetic incidents against civilian shipping are likely within the one-year outlook, and masters should continue to regard Libyan territorial waters as a high-risk environment until the security situation stabilizes. This will be contingent on a political agreement being reached by the various factions, an achievement which currently seems a remote possibility.

James Pothecary is a Political Risk Analyst specializing in the Middle East with Allan & Associates, an international security consultancy which provides a range of protective services including political and security risk assessments, security policy design and crisis management response.

Featured Image: Smoke rises from the oil tanker Anwar Afriqya after a Libyan warplane attacked the tanker in Sirte, Libya, Sunday. (Reuters0

The Rapid Growth of the Algerian Navy

The Algerian Navy has been on a buying frenzy in recent years, amassing a significant maritime force. In September 2014, representing the culmination of a longer term procurement project, Italy’s Orizzonte Sistemi Navali (OSN) delivered Algeria’s new flagship, an 8,800-tonne amphibious assault ship called the Kalaat Beni-Abbes. But newer projects than OSN’s are currently underway. A shipyard in Saint Petersburg, Russia is building two new Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines for Algeria, while two MEKO A200-class frigates, three F-22P Zulfiquar-class frigates, and two Tigr-class corvettes are being produced for service in the Algerian National Navy at shipyards ranging from Kiel to Karachi.

z classThis vastly outpaces the procurement projects of Algeria’s neighbours. In 1993, Algeria and Tunisia successfully resolved their maritime boundary dispute and have since launched several joint energy exploration projects. Tunisia’s 2010-2011 revolution and concerns in Algeria that the uprising might bring an Islamist regime to power created some uncertainty, but the bilateral relationship remains on the whole quite positive. Although the nearby Strait of Gibraltar has seen some heightened tension between British and Spanish maritime forces, Algeria is not a party to any of these confrontations. In this context, the aggressive expansion of the Algerian National Navy must be rather confusing.

However, it is possible that Algeria is preparing for a significant counter-piracy role. NATO’s Operation Unified Protector devastated the Libyan Navy. Currently, that country’s maritime forces consist of one Koni-class frigate, one Natya-class minesweeper, and two Polnocny-C landing ships. NATO air strikes in May 2011 totally destroyed Libya’s naval bases at Sirte, Khoms, and Tripoli. While the maritime forces loyal to the Libyan government are small in number and poorly equipped, rebels continue to hold a few ports in Libya’s east, though most were freed in a series of offensives during the summer and autumn of 2014. Earlier, in March 2014, one rebel militia succeeded in loading an oil tanker in defiance of the Libyan authorities, prompting the ouster of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.

If the Libyan authorities are struggling to secure their own ports, it is conceivable that rebel groups in the country’s eastern regions could engage in piracy in future years. Such a situation would jeopardize Algeria’s economic growth as it seeks to become a major energy exporter to Europe and Asia. In March 2014, Algerian officials announced plans to increase oil and natural gas production by 13% to 220 million metric tonnes of oil equivalent in two years. The resulting increase in tanker traffic on North Africa’s coast would present plenty of prime targets for Libyan pirates.

Yet it remains unclear whether it is indeed a counter-piracy role that is envisioned for the Algerian National Navy. Algeria is not officially cooperating with Operation Active Endeavour, which is NATO’s counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation force in the Mediterranean Sea, though five ships assigned to the NATO Mine Counter-Measures Group did make a port visit to Algiers in September 2014 prior to joining Active Endeavour. In order to avoid conflict from emerging between Algeria and Libya over the security of international shipping routes, it may be necessary for NATO officials to aggressively pursue a closer relationship with both countries.

Through the Mediterranean Dialogue, NATO established an Individual Cooperation Program (ICP) with Israel in 2006, which allows for Israeli participation in Operation Active Endeavour and other mutually beneficial initiatives. Other ICPs were completed with Egypt in 2007 and Jordan in 2009. Securing ICPs with Algeria and Libya, however, will be an uphill battle; Algeria has participated in NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue since 2000 but Libya has yet to even respond to a 2012 invitation to join. Nonetheless, it is still an effort worth attempting as it may help to avoid much hardship and conflict in the future. For now, Algeria seems to be bracing for impact.

Paul Pryce is a Research Analyst at the Atlantic Council of Canada. His research interests are diverse and include maritime security, NATO affairs, and African regional integration.

This article can be found in its original form at Atlantic Council of Canada.

‘Drones’ for Peace

Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs), commonly referred to as ‘drones’, have been the subject of much discussion surrounding potential operations in Syria, primarily in the context of enforcing a ‘no-fly’ zone or enforcement role similar to their role in Libya and modeled after operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.  This paper examines the prospects of the use of RPAs in Syria, finding RPAs as currently operated today counterproductive to potential political aims in Syria in an enforcement capacity.  Smaller RPAs, operating in a number of other roles, could however play a critical role in overcoming the humanitarian conflict in Syria, from monitoring key sites designated by the International Community and allowed by the Syrian Government and opposition forces, to providing humanitarian aid, to overwatch of convoy movements to include the removal of chemical weapons.  The stigma of RPAs, given their use in other conflicts, must be overcome to allow them to be evaluated and used as a tool for monitoring and aid among other roles, not just as offensive weapons of war.

Following NATO operations in Libya, a number of analysts in the United States spoke of the prospect of applying the ‘Libya Model’ to Syria. In August of 2011, a Washington Post article on the Syria conflict began with the passage “[t]he success of Libya’s rebels in toppling their dictator is prompting calls within the Syrian opposition for armed rebellion and NATO intervention (Sly, 2011).”  That same day, the New York Times ran an article outlining the prospects of such a model being applied elsewhere, noting President Obama’s March 2011 speech outlining principles for humanitarian intervention. In February 2012, Anne Marie Slaughter outlined a strategy for intervention consisting of the creation of ‘no-kill zones’ near the Turkish, Lebanese, and Jordanian borders, the arming of opposition forces to create the zone, and for Turkey and Arab allies to enforce the zones “through the use of remotely piloted helicopters, either for delivery of cargo and weapons — as America has used them in Afghanistan — or to attack Syrian air defenses and mortars in order to protect the no-kill zones (Slaughter, 2012).”

Today, as problems with enforcement of the chemical weapons agreement have bogged down and as the Obama Administration has signaled that the al Nusra Front appears increasingly to be a direct threat to the U.S. (Rohde, 2014), speculation is rising once more that a military option may be back on the table for Syria.  While any military option would be fraught with a number of obstacles to planning, execution, and justification, the semi-regular talk of RPAs as a key instrument in many of these options is especially problematic.  This stems in part from a limited popular understanding of the roles and capabilities of RPAs, and also a lack of imagination by policymakers for other ways in which RPAs could be a positive good, both for warzones like Syria and for other humanitarian crises globally.  A move away from the mythology of the ‘drone’ and toward an appreciation for the spectrum of potential roles unique to RPAs over manned aircraft is vital to understanding how the ‘drone’ will likely play a far greater role as an instrument in peacetime.

Understanding Classes of RPAs

Conflation of the capabilities of strategic RPAs and the proliferation of tactical RPAs clouds RPA discussion.  Just as strategic bombers such as the B-2 represent only one class of aircraft, Predator and Reaper represent only one limited application of RPAs.  Understanding the array of RPAs and differentiating capabilities and limitations of systems is necessary to overcome the stigma of the RPA as a tool of war or assassination, and appreciating its potential uses in humanitarian crises. I divide RPAs as platforms between tactical and strategic RPAs based on their connectivity to their operator, which differentiates those that are reliant on global communications and intelligence infrastructure and are capable of long range, extended duration operations, and those that are more simple locally controlled line-of-sight RPAs.[1]

The strategic requirements and organizational capacity of states and organizations dictate which types of RPAs they will pursue, while the rate and nature of diffusion can be predicted by applying Michael Horowitz’s Adoption-Capacity Theory (Horowitz, 2011).  This theory projects the rate of diffusion of a military innovation by evaluating its costs to implement versus its organizational capacity to adopt the change.  Costs are a factor of the dual-use civilian-military applications of the innovation and the per-unit cost of the asset.  Organizational capacity, meanwhile, is a function of the organization’s age, willingness to experiment, and critical task focus.  The division of RPAs into two categories as previously defined allows us to evaluate both the diffusion of RPA platforms, as well as the potential uses of those platforms given the array of potential users.

Tactical RPAs are likely to rapidly diffuse and see the most independent innovation in terms of their potential usage due to their low cost and the potential for numerous applications beyond the military sphere.  In the U.S., a strong community of RPA enthusiasts already exists that is experimenting with a variety of commercial, recreational, and government applications for smaller RPAs.  Amazon.com received attention earlier this year for their 30-minute RPA delivery plan,[2] but other initiatives are at work to allow citizens to use RPAs to monitor crops, take overhead images for commercial purposes, and to assist in search and rescue for as low as $740 for a single system (Kelly, 2014).  Such small RPAs already play a role in assisting in Search and Rescue missions providing both search and improved communications capability in isolated or hazardous environments (such as fires), and for delivery of small cargo such as heart defibrillators and medicine among other positive uses for such RPAs (Newman, 2013).

Figure 1: Reaper Manning[3]

Picture 1

Strategic RPAs require higher costs both to procure and to operate, which applies both to the unit and to the larger global intelligence and communications system involved in operating the asset.   This results in higher operational costs relative to those of similar piloted airframes if a manned alternative exists.  In examining relative costs, Table 1 shows the problem with conflating the costs of RPAs purchased online with the capabilities of strategic RPAs.  The Global Hawk and U-2 represent the closest to a direct comparison of capabilities,[4] while Table 1 shows the flight-hour cost are roughly comparable.  Given the reachback and precision engagement requirements, the military-only applications of these airframes, and the resulting high per-unit costs these RPAs will be very slow to diffuse and innovation within the class of RPAs will likely be slow and incremental.

Table 1: U-2/RQ-4 Cost Comparison

  Procurement Cost Flight-Hour Cost
U-2 Classified/no longer in production $31,000[5]
Global Hawk (2010) $46.4-80 million $40,600[6]
Global Hawk (2013) $46.4-80 million $18,900

Due to their high costs and the significant infrastructure requirements required to build and operate strategic RPAs, innovation occurs with these RPAs slowly and deliberately, with new innovations regularly referred to as ‘using only proven technology.’[7] This trend can be seen within the U.S. RPA force.  Figure 2 shows the growth of U.S. RPAs, to include target drones, tactical, and strategic reconnaissance RPAs since the 1930s.  Tactical RPAs have adopted across a wider variety of missions and from multiple platforms, as their lower cost and limited operational capacity requirements has enabled both private sector and tactical operations innovations to allow a number of platforms to supplement existing operations.  Strategic RPAs, on the other hand, have slowly evolved from wither the Predator or Reaper families, with the RQ-170 representing likely the baseline of future RPAs merged with the advancing Predator family under the Avenger.

Figure 2: U.S. Military RPA Development

Picture 2

Given this classification of RPAs we are better positioned to evaluate the prospects for RPAs in both peacetime environments and in humanitarian crisis situations.  Traditionally, RPAs in general are categorized as being ideally suited for missions that are ‘dull, dirty, or dangerous.’[8]  However, given the high cost of strategic RPAs, low cost of tactical RPAs, and the capabilities and vulnerability associated with each class of RPA, strategic RPAs are best suited for those missions which can be categorized as ‘dull,’ with tactical RPAs better suited for those which are ‘dirty’ or ‘dangerous.’  ‘Dull’ missions require the lack of a threat and are enhanced by the persistent nature associated with the dwell time of strategic RPAs.  The high cost of strategic RPAs precludes them in many cases from being used in dangerous environments unless deemed absolutely necessary given the risk of loss.  Tactical RPAs, however, are relatively expendable given their low per-unit cost, while in many cases the shorter dwell times associated with these aircraft as well as the shorter range limited by line-of-sight control makes them less optimal for ‘dull’ missions.  They can, however, be fielded by a wide range of actors who are free to innovate a wider variety of uses for the airframes.

Strategic RPAs as Peace Enforcers versus Tactical RPAs as Peace Keepers

Most discussion of RPAs in Syria see RPAs employed in a ‘Peace Enforcement’ mission.  Peace Enforcement is defined by U.S. military doctrine as “[a]pplication of military force, or the threat of its use, normally pursuant to international authorization, to compel compliance with resolutions or sanctions designed to maintain or restore peace and order (Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2012, p. I8).“  This is different from ‘Peacekeeping,’ which U.S. doctrine defines as operations “undertaken with the consent of all major parties to a dispute, designed to monitor and facilitate implementation of an agreement (cease fire, truce, or other such agreement) and support diplomatic efforts to reach a long-term political settlement (Ibid).”

The RPA appears advantageous as it is seen by some as less of a violation of sovereignty than manned aircraft or a ground force.  This is likely due to perceptions of U.S. operations where the U.S. has been accused of violating sovereignty with no recourse or justification.[9]  The realities of RPAs are more complicated however, and the likelihood of tacit Pakistani approval of operations as outlined by David Ignatius in 2008 (Ignatius, 2008) and more recently by the International Crisis Group (Drones: Myths And Reality In Pakistan, 2013) undercuts the likelihood of sovereignty actually being violated and which should in turn serve as a warning to future operations.  If Turkey were concerned that manned flights would constitute a violation of Syrian territory, there should be no reason to believe that Syria would be less justified based on a similar violation by an RPA.

The low speeds, lack of defenses, and mission requirements of extended loiter over a fixed area as Predator and Reaper are generally employed would make them easy targets for a state with an active air defense system and the will to employ it.  Syria maintains a significant, though likely ill-maintained Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) capable of engaging a variety of targets.  The June 2012 shoot-down of a Turkish RF-4 which violated Syrian airspace briefly illustrates Syria’s general willingness to shoot down aircraft in defense of its territory (Times of Israel Staff, 2012). Slaughter attempted to reframe this by saying all forms of intervention must be purely defensive, “only to stop attacks by the Syrian military or to clear out government forces that dare to attack the no-kill zones (Slaughter, 2012).”  However, it is hard to see how any military operation designed to limit the Syrian government’s sovereignty anywhere within Syrian territory would be viewed by Syria, Russia, China, or Iran as anything but an offensive move.  RPAs, seeking to enforce a no-kill zone from inside Syrian airspace against the will of the Syrian government would find themselves highly vulnerable to Syria’s air defense network, necessitating a large-scale air campaign to destroy most of the Syrian Air Force before RPA operations could commence.  Due to the likely lack of UN approval for an operation, the threat posed by the Syrian IADS system and the necessity to secure airspace in advance of operations, and the implications of the loss of even a few strategic RPAs in Syria, RPAs as a tool for enforcement of either a no-fly or no-kill zone in Syria should be viewed as a non-starter.

An incremental approach aimed at limited purely humanitarian aims should be the objective for planners interested in stopping the humanitarian crisis as modest interim agreements to limit fighting, protect civilians, and achieve other objectives such as eliminating chemical weapons appear to be feasible near-term objectives.  In early 2014 a 72-hr truce was reached to evacuate civilians from the city of Homs, a limited ceasefire that was extended as peace talks faltered (Agence France-Presse, 2014).  Similar evacuations have been thwarted by violence in the surrounding areas, while the removal of chemical weapons from storage depots in Syria were similarly delayed by such threats in addition to accusations of stalling on the part of the regime.  In each of these cases, tactical RPAs similar to those used for search and rescue in the U.S. could have been used to supplement the operations in order to increase transparency of operations and assist in the delivery of vital humanitarian supplies of food, medicine, and other aid items to besieged communities and hard to access locations.

Here, the aforementioned distinction between peace enforcing operations and peace keeping operations is critical, and in a sense the vulnerabilities of RPAs that were a vice for strategic RPAs can be a virtue for tactical RPAs.  Unarmed RPAs could only be used with the consent of parties to the conflict and thus would need to be approved as part of a concept of operations with the approval for the intervention, be it removal of chemical weapons or humanitarian relief, and with it a reduced threat environment.  The primary goal of a mission like convoy support would be to increase transparency both of the relief operation and the emergence of threats to the operation, which in part should serve as a deterrent to the emergence of threats.  However, given the relatively low cost of tactical RPAs, were deterrence to fail resulting in RPAs being lost the economic cost would be relatively small while the likelihood that sensors aboard the RPA could identify the origin of the threat would in turn lead to greater clarity in assignment of blame for the attack and with it the potential to shape future negotiations to the violators detriment.  The small size of tactical RPA payloads, limited range, and local control of operations would also allow for increased transparency to parties to the conflict for inspections of payloads to ensure no contraband is shipped in violation of agreements.

For many of these operations, lessons can be learned from military applications of RPAs in conflicts like Iraq, but narrowly tailored to a neutral role.  In 2006, the U.S. Army developed Task Force ODIN as a specialty team to detect and neutralize threats to convoys in Iraq.  In its early years, this consisted primarily of coordinating ISR operations with convoys to secure route clearance, but over time evolved to a broader mission to identify and track insurgent networks to defeat cells before they could even emplace bombs (Glass, 2009).  While the latter mission would involve direct intervention to proactively eliminate threats as part of a military campaign, lessons learned from early operations to clear routes and monitor activities in the areas of convoy movements could be tailored to meet the needs of international teams performing missions in Syria.  For humanitarian relief, the lessons learned from search and rescue missions in the U.S. could provide a first step for developing concepts of operations to employ RPAs in those environments.

Figure 4: Sample simplified CONOP for humanitarian RPA operations

Picture 3 Picture 4

In the case of a future humanitarian operation to provide support for a besieged city like Homs, tactical RPAs could be used in the initial phases of the operation to provide overwatch in order to reduce violence.  A ceasefire limited to an area such as a stadium would allow peacekeeping forces to set up a base of operations, to include an RPA ground station and launch/recovery zone, sufficient to enable several orbits of RPAs with both electro-optical and infrared sensors.  These RPAs would allow for intelligence preparation of the operating environment to increase visibility of levels of destruction, identification of areas where people have taken shelter, and in addition could deter violence through increased visibility of ongoing operations.  The RPAs themselves could be vulnerable to man portable surface-to-air missiles (MANPADs), but given the relative cost of the RPAs versus the information that could be gleamed from a shoot-down of an RPA by a MANPAD may justify the cost by both aiding to identify those who would violate a ceasefire agreement and by increasing visibility of the types of arms being brought into Syria and the levels of violence associated with the conflict.  Figure 4 shows what a sample CONOP might look like, with multiple RPA orbits over selected areas of the city to be evacuated with additional orbits providing route pre-clearance for convoys of vehicles moving displaced persons to the port city of Tartus.


Discussion of RPAs and the Syria conflict is heavily clouded by the images of Predator and Reaper as weapons of war, both by those who would like to see greater U.S. involvement in the conflict that may see them as a virtue, or by those who fear involvement and worry about escalation.  The limited image of ‘drones’ has become a hindrance to their effective employment in humanitarian crises, a stigma which must be overcome to allow for their effective use in crisis situations.  Smaller RPAs, flown by neutral operators, with the consent of parties to the conflict or impacted by the crisis, can play a major role in humanitarian relief, from search and rescue to increasing transparency.

One major challenge to this point has been the stigma of ‘drones’ combined with the expertise residing largely in the military community or with military and government contractors.  Many countries are uncomfortable with the U.S. flying ‘drones’ over their territory due to this stigma, even in crisis situations.    Non-government organizations may similarly be unwilling to use RPAs for fear of being associated with military equipment which might negatively impact their mission.  Understanding the nature and characteristics of the tool is vital to understanding their potential for both good and ill in humanitarian crises.  Overall, given the stakes involved in the humanitarian crisis and the demands of the international community to ‘do something,’ the potential of unarmed tactical RPAs to be a force for peace in Syria in cooperation with limited  international peacekeeping efforts appears to be a risk worth taking.

Michael P. Kreuzer is a PhD Candidate in International Security Studies at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a Graduate Student Associate at the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University.  His forthcoming dissertation examines the military utility and likely patterns of diffusions for remotely piloted aircraft, and their impact on future international relations.  He is an Air Force veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and holds a BS in History from the United States Air Force Academy, an MPA from the University of Alaska Anchorage, and an MSI from American Military University. 


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[1] This terminology is problematic for some airpower scholars as the airpower notion of ‘Effects Based Operations” defines all platforms as fundamentally tactical which in turn can have strategic effects based on the exploitation of the mission, but for my basic purposes it suffices as stressing that some RPAs will be limited to a narrow radius for operations in an environment where their operators are vulnerable (tactical RPAs) vice those that are the focus of air campaigns through a global operating system (strategic RPAs).  The terminology here defines the character of the airframe vice the nature of the mission it performs.

[2] This claim is likely unrealistic and meant to garner headlines.  Although Amazon is reportedly also working to patent a system that can predict customer orders in advance, for a small RPA which flies at under 100 mph Amazon would have pre-position warehouses with most of their inventory on hand roughly every 30 miles or at least within 30 miles of every major market in order to make such a system a reality even before processing and loading.  At that point Amazon may as well allow in-person pickup which begins to look more like a catalog store.

[3] Figure derived from an unclassified Air Force slide provided to author by Lt Gen David Deptula (USAF, Ret).

[4] Even this comparison is imperfect as the U-2 has defense mechanisms, can fly faster, and carry a greater payload.

[5] Information from DailyTech report (Hatamoto, 2011).

[6] See Shalal-Esa (2013) for Global Hawk flight-hour costs.

[7] Discussing the development of the U.S. Air Force’s next generation bomber and the prospects for an unmanned variant, Lt. Gen. Charles Davis emphasized the need for developing the manned capable aircraft first.  “Very rarely should we be out maturing new technologies in new platforms…Once we are certain that a technology is at a usable level, then our acquisition programs can do the hard work of integrating. We have a hard enough time integrating engines, air frames, sensors; we should not be inventing things that have not been developed (Osborn, 2013).”

[8] Likely noted first in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap 2005–2030 (Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap 2005–2030, 2005), accessible online at http://www.fas.org/irp/program/collect/uav_roadmap2005.pdf.   Singer and others readily use this phrase when describing the utilization of RPAs.

[9] Prominent examples include the report Living Under Drones (Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan) and UN Investigator Ben Emmerson’s report from March 2013 (Abbot, 2013).

The Royal Canadian Navy in NATO

HMCS Vancouver and "The Rock"
HMCS Vancouver and “The Rock”

By Tomasz Trembowski

On August 16, 2011, the Canadian government announced the re-naming of Canada’s naval forces from “Maritime Command (MARCOM)” to its original designation, the “Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).” The last time Canada’s naval forces were known as the RCN was in 1968, when Lester B. Pearson amalgamated the three branches of the Canadian military under one command, named the “Canadian Forces.” Whatever name they operate under, Canada’s naval forces will continue to prove their importance in decades to come by playing a key role within NATO in increasingly critical waters.

Canada is proving its maritime mettle in a number of NATO operations around the world. Canadian vessels have played an active role in the NATO operation Active Endeavour. The operation was initiated on October 6, 2001, as a response to the September 11th attacks, which invoked NATO’s collective-security defence clause – Article 5. The aim of Active Endeavor is to keep the Mediterranean trade routes open and safe from pirates or terrorists, and to track and control vessels suspected of transporting weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

Among the Canadian vessels that have participated in Canada’s portions of Active Endeavour, operations Sirius and Metric, are the Halifax-class frigates HMCS Charlottetown (FFH 339) and HMCS Vancouver (FFH 331). Most recently, Charlottetown returned to the Mediterranean in January 2012, continuing to patrol the area for suspect vessels until re-tasked to join Operation Artemis in April as part of Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150) in the Arabian Sea. To date, Active Endeavour operations have hailed over 100,000 vessels and boarded some 155 suspect ships. Continued RCN participation in this operation not only gives Canada the capability to respond to crises in the immediate region but offers security to a region where a tremendous amount of world trade is conducted.

Another recent Canadian effort has been as part of Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1). SNMG1 is an integrated maritime force, consisting of four to six destroyers and frigates from different NATO Member and Partner countries, that plays an important part in maritime security. It normally operates in the eastern Atlantic Ocean during peace time. However since August 17, 2009, SNMG1 has been operating in and around the Gulf of Aden, a body of water that lies between the southern coast of Yemen and Somalia. The current operation, Ocean Shield, has made significant contributions to international efforts aimed at combating piracy off the Horn of Africa.

Within Ocean Shield Canadian vessels  have played crucial roles. Among them, Charlottetown helped disrupt the movement of illicit cargo off the coast of Yemen. On May 5, 2012, for instance, Charlottetown successfully intercepted 600 pounds of hashish.  Speaking at the changeover of Charlottetown with HMCS Regina (FFH 334) on August 19, Canadian Minister of National Defence, Peter Mackay stated, “Regina’s deployment continues our strong tradition of participation in overseas operations with our allies, while making meaningful contributions to international security and stability.” Ocean Shield is expected to end in 2014, but until then the Canadian Navy will no doubt continue to take an active role in the operation.

CDR Craig Skjerpen, commanding officer of HMCS Charlottetown, uses the "Big Eyes" binoculars to look for small boats crewed by Libyan pro-regime forces.
CDR Craig Skjerpen, commanding officer of HMCS Charlottetown, uses the “Big Eyes” binoculars to look for small boats crewed by Libyan pro-regime forces.

On March 23, 2011, NATO initiated Operation Unified Protector, under the command of Canadian Lt. General Charles Bouchard, to enforce UN resolutions 1970 and 1973 concerning Libya. The resolutions authorized NATO forces to maintain a no-fly zone and arms embargo against the Libyan government.

Both Vancouver and Charlottetown participated in the operation. On May 12, 2011, Charlottetown, along with French and British warships, engaged several Qadhafi regime small boats involved in an attack against the port of Misrata, and 18 days later came under fire from BM-21 rockets launched from shore. Meanwhile Vancouver worked alongside NATO allies to enforce the arms embargo placed against the Libyan government until its fall. As shown, Canada can and does play a leading role in NATO operations on the seas and oceans of the world.

NATO’s Arctic Future
In addition to its involvement in NATO operations abroad, Canadian vessels can perhaps play a key role in shaping NATO’s Arctic policy. As the Arctic becomes more navigable, there will be much more traffic in the region, commercial and military, which will necessitate a stronger RCN presence. On June 3, 2010, the Canadian government announced its new National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). This strategy will see $35 billion dollars spent to construct both large and small combat vessels. Among the first batch of vessels slated for delivery are the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships in 2018. These vessels are seen as fundamental to securing Canada’s security and sovereignty in the Arctic.

The Canadian government was initially quite bellicose in its rhetoric regarding Arctic sovereignty, but more recently that stance has softened. The number of speeches mentioning new science and economic endeavours are outnumbering those proposing military bases, for example. However, in leaked US cables dating from 2010, Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper apparently cautioned NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen that NATO had no role in the Arctic and any such moves would only serve to increase tensions with Russia. According to the cable the PM commented that there is, “no likelihood of Arctic states going to war, but that some non-Arctic members favored a NATO role in the Arctic because it would afford them influence in an area where they don’t belong.”

In fact, there are plenty of reasons to get NATO involved. While a war among Arctic nations is indeed a far-fetched and unlikely event, there are other considerations to take into account. First, as the Northwest Passage becomes more easily navigable, experts predict the route may become the busiest waterway in the world. As the passage sees increased commercial traffic, a greater military presence will be required to inspect passing vessels for illicit or dangerous cargo, and to enforce possible environmental regulations.

Furthermore, Russia, the other major player with a massive interest in the Arctic, is already militarizing the region. Over the past few years, Russian air and submarine activity in the Arctic has reached levels not seen since the Cold War. It has even re-opened its old airbases on frozen archipelagos located above the Arctic Circle. Since Canada’s Arctic forces at current can’t hold a candle to Russia’s, a simple solution would see Canada include all NATO allies in current discussions taking place in the Arctic Council. This would be followed by working closely with all NATO allies to establish a new force primarily dedicated to the Arctic. This new force would naturally include the new Canadian vessels being built to operate specifically in the region. Such a move would no doubt give Canada a leading role in the matter considering the country’s proximity and forward position in the region. Why wait until Russia has moved deeper into the region and takes advantage of slow-moving talks in the Arctic Council?

Canada has already proven that it is a power on the oceans and seas of the world by aiding in counter-terrorism operations, anti-piracy operations, and naval warfare operations. It can be proud of its RCN and the contributions and leadership it provides to both past and present NATO operations. Now, however, is the time to codify a new role for the RCN for the new century – the Arctic. This of course, is solely in the hands of the Canadian government. All it has to do is reach out and include its NATO allies.

This article appeared in its original form and was cross-posted by permission from The Atlantic Council of Canada.