Tag Archives: Mine Warfare

Resources, Limited Capabilities Challenge Baltic Navies As Russia Threat Grows

European Maritime Security Topic Week

By Jeremiah Cushman

Since regaining their independence in the early 1990s, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have confronted the challenge of how to secure themselves with limited resources. Russian opposition to the Baltic States’ Western orientation has ensured that Moscow remains the primary threat. Since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the countries have become more concerned about their eastern neighbor’s intentions.

During the 1990s, the Baltic States considered three major security policy options: neutrality (Russia’s stated preference); trilateral alliance and close military cooperation with the Nordic states; and working to join NATO and the European Union.1 With a political desire to rejoin the West and ongoing suspicion of Russia, all three countries made joining Western institutions their primary goal. They achieved membership in both organizations in 2004.

With NATO’s Article V collective defense guarantee in hand, the Baltic States were free to choose their own paths to meeting their alliance obligations and homeland defense needs. Estonia has maintained a focus on territorial defense, retaining conscription and large reserves to defend the homeland, while actively participating in NATO and U.S.-led operations with its small active-duty forces. Lithuania followed a middle ground, tailoring some of its forces for missions abroad, while retaining some territorial defense capability. Latvia elected to rely almost entirely on NATO for deterrence, ensuring its forces are fully interoperable and available for alliance operations. Latvia and Lithuania both ended conscription to concentrate on professional forces. The Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 refocused all three countries on homeland defense, with Latvia and Lithuania re-emphasizing territorial defense capabilities. Lithuania has decided to resume conscription for at least the next five years.

All three Baltic States have focused their naval capabilities on mine countermeasures. This specialization is seen as a concrete way to contribute to NATO missions despite limited resources and to address regional maritime security concerns. The Baltic Sea contains thousands of mines and munitions left over from World Wars I and II, which continue to be cleaned up during NATO and other exercises. Additional capabilities are retained for lower-end homeland security missions.

The threat of Russian ground invasion has been the primary occupation of Baltic military establishments. All three countries nevertheless have significant coastlines on the Baltic Sea with the accompanying maritime security and defense concerns. These include search-and-rescue, exclusive economic zone security, combating smuggling, the threat of amphibious assault, and hostile submarines. The focus on land threats, expense of naval combat platforms, and limited resources have so far prevented the countries from acquiring or maintaining significant naval capabilities. What follows is an analysis of each Baltic State’s respective naval capabilities followed by trends in their combined missions and activities.

Estonia

Estonia focuses its naval forces almost exclusively on mine countermeasures. The current national defense plan, which runs through 2022, calls for modernizing its three Admiral Cowan-class (former British Sandownclass) minehunters, developing its diver group, and maintaining the auxiliary vessel Tasuja (ex-Danish Lindormenclass). The focus is on international military missions, particularly with Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Groups (SNMCG). Local maritime security is left to other agencies.

The Police and Border Guard is responsible for surveillance, border protection, search-and-rescue (SAR) and pollution control operations.2 The Navy does not participate in such missions, but can be tasked for SAR as needed.

The Maritime Administration provides navigational security, including sea charts, hydrography, icebreaking, and maintaining a vessel traffic service. Fisheries protection is the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment, although it makes use of Police and Border Guard assets.

A 2016 report found that Estonia’s maritime security suffered from institutional fragmentation and a lack of maritime situational awareness.3 Insufficient investment and poor delineation of responsibilities left the country without the ability to identify or precisely locate unknown vessels within its waters. Should a vessel be identified as hostile, Estonia lacks the ability to engage it.

The divide between the navy and border guard has been exacerbated by domestic politics, including constraints on using defense assets for constabulary duties. The border guard has also benefited from EU investment, which cannot be used for military purposes.

With the appropriate investments, these problems could be resolved within 15 years, says the aforementioned report. This would require institutional reform and significant funding for coastal radars, additional patrol craft, helicopters, coastal defense missile batteries. It remains to be seen if the Estonian government will move forward on these proposals. Until then, it will remain vulnerable to maritime threats.

Latvia

Latvia has a significant mine-hunting capability with a fleet of five Imanta-class (former Dutch Alkmaar class) mine countermeasures ships for NATO operations. Riga also cooperates with Lithuania on mine warfare as part of the Baltic Squadron (BALTRON) program. Estonia withdrew from the unit in 2015 as it refocused its resources on its own minesweeping capabilities.4

Latvia has invested in additional multi-role and patrol capabilities with its Skrunda-class patrol boats. Each features a modular mission bay capable of supporting missions such as mine countermeasures, environmental protection, or armament up to a 35-mm cannon. The Navy has also considered anti-submarine warfare and area air defense capabilities for the class.5 Latvia has also implemented a sea coastal surveillance system (SCSS) to improve maritime situational awareness.

The Latvian Coast Guard service, a component of the Navy, is in charge of search-and-rescue, environmental monitoring, and law enforcement in national waters. The Sea Coastal Surveillance Service monitors and surveys territorial waters. The Border Guard also operates some maritime assets for border protection.

As NATO has increased its presence in the Baltic States, Latvia has proposed that the alliance set up a naval facility in the former Soviet Navy base in Liepaja.6 This facility would create a steady NATO naval presence in the immediate region, enhancing maritime security and providing capabilities the Baltic States lack. Critics note that it might also be viewed as a provocation by Moscow. As it stands, little appears to have happened on this front. The focus continues to be on landward defense.

Lithuania

The Lithuanian Navy, as might be expected of the largest of the Baltic States, has the greatest capability. Mine warfare is a core asset, including two Kursis-class (ex-German Lindauclass) coastal minehunters and two Skalvis-class (ex-British Hunt class) minehunters and the support ship Jotvingis (ex-Norwegian Vidar class). It has a capable patrol squadron consisting of four Zemaitis-class patrol ships (ex-Danish Flyvefisken class). Lithuania acquired the fourth ship, the Selis, in November 2016, in an agreement that also covered two anti-submarine warfare sonars for other ships in the class. The acquisition permitted the decommissioning of the Navy’s last Dzukas-class (ex-Norwegian Storm-class) patrol craft. It may also have been inspired by the increasing Russian threat. The Zemaitis-class ships provide the greatest combat capability of any in Baltic naval service, with modern combat management systems and a 76-mm main gun.

Lithuanian patrol ship Žemaitis (Wikimedia Commons)

The Lithuanian Navy has been described as the most balanced of the three Baltic naval services. It is tasked with monitoring and defending national waters as well as performing search-and-rescue and other maritime security missions. The sea and coastal surveillance service and maritime rescue coordination center are under the command of the navy. The Border Guard Service provides air assets for SAR operations, since the Navy does not maintain its own.

Combined Maritime Capabilities

The Baltic States face a challenging maritime environment. Russia is stepping up its operations, including increased air activity and deploying to the region two Grad Sviyazshk-class patrol craft, equipped with long-range Kalibr cruise missiles.7 For the most part, the countries lack the resources to defend themselves against serious naval threats without significant NATO assistance. All are increasing defense spending (Estonia already meets NATO’s 2 percent GDP threshold and Latvia and Lithuania are expected to reach it within the next few years), though ground capabilities remain the priority.

Russia’s capability to potentially control airspace in the region, to include fighter jets and long-range surface-to-air missile systems, poses an additional threat. NATO currently maintains an air-policing capability stationed at air bases in Estonia and Lithuania. Otherwise, the alliance is reliant on assets outside of the immediate region. The Baltic States lack significant air defense capabilities, although talks are underway on a joint procurement of NASAMS surface-to-air missile systems. Their naval platforms are without any such protection.

All three face a number of capability gaps. None has a significant naval combat capability. The Lithuanian navy is the only with ships with naval guns of any size. A mobile coastal missile capability is seen as needed by some. Elsewhere in the region, Sweden has been refurbishing its RBS 15 missile batteries, while Poland has purchased the Norwegian Naval Strike Missile. A joint procurement of such a capability by the three countries could address financial and logistics concerns.

Mine warfare is another gap. Lacking sea control capabilities, strengthening sea denial is an option for bolstering defenses. Finland has expertise in minelaying and could be a valuable partner.

Given recent incidents in Swedish and Finnish waters, some sort of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability may also be required. Lithuania is upgrading the ASW capability on its Zemaitis-class boats, while Latvia could seek such a capability for its Skrunda-class patrol craft. As unmanned systems improve, this could be another avenue for these countries to obtain an affordable ASW capability in the future.

The Baltic States also participate in wider maritime surveillance activities in the region, namely the Sea Surveillance Cooperation Baltic Sea (SUCBAS) program. This includes all of the states that border the Baltic Sea, except for Russia. The participants exchange information on vessel data, technical sea surveillance and views on related issues. There is also cooperation at the European Union level.

Conclusion

Despite the similarities of their challenges, the Baltic States have mostly gone their own way on naval policy. Each has a different concept for their navy and maritime security agencies, with cooperation among the states mostly limited to mine countermeasures capabilities. They have not pursued the potential for joint procurement of naval capabilities.

In this new strategic environment, the Baltic States must think carefully about how to maximize their assets, including how border and coast guard services should be utilized in a high-threat scenario. Improving coordination domestically and with their neighbors will enhance security beyond the Russian threat.

Any significant changes will take time to implement. With the increased visibility of potential threats domestically, now seems an opportune time to begin making the necessary investments. By better securing their maritime holdings and strengthening naval defenses, the Baltic States will make a useful contribution to the overall defense of the region in support of NATO and EU objectives.

Jeremiah Cushman is a senior analyst at Military Periscope, where he writes about weapons. He holds a BA in International Relations from Boston University and an MA in European and Eurasian Studies from the George Washington University, where a focused on European security and the Baltic States.

Endnotes 

1. “Between continuation and adaptation: The Baltic states’ security policy and armed forces,” Piotr Szymanski, Center for Eastern Policy (Warsaw, Poland), Nov. 24, 2015.

2. “Cooperation Of Coast Guards And Navies In Baltic Sea Region,” Lt. Cmdr. Taavi Urb, National Defence Academy of Latvia (Riga), April 10, 2011.

3. “The State Needs Warships, Helicopters And Coastal Radar Network,” Oliver Kund, Postimees (Tallinn), Dec. 27, 2016.

4. “Estonia To Withdraw From Baltic Naval Squadron,” Estonian Public Radio, Jan. 8, 2015.

5. “The Commanders Respond: Latvian Navy,” Capt. Rimants Strimaitis, Proceedings, March 2012.

6. “Latvia’s Push For A NATO Naval Base,” Elisabeth Braw, World Affairs Journal, June 21, 2016.

7. “Russia Beefs Up Baltic Fleet Amid NATO Tensions,” Andrew Osborn and Simon Johnson, Reuters, Oct. 26, 2016.

Featured: Featured Image: Estonian Defense Forces, 17 April 2009. (Estonia Ministry of Defense)

Naval Mines and Mining: Innovating in the Face of Benign Neglect

This commentary is based on Dr. Truver’s remarks at the Future Strategy Forum 2016, Undersea Warfare panel, hosted by the Center for Naval Analyses, 5-6 December 2016.

By Scott C. Truver, Ph.D.

Introduction

Winston Churchill observed, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

Looking backward, it usually comes as a surprise to learn that of the 19 U.S. Navy ships that have been seriously damaged or sunk by enemy action since the end of World War II, 15 – nearly 80 percent – were mine victims.

This vulnerability to mines has catalyzed the U.S. Navy to spend many hundreds of millions of dollars to counter a global threat that includes more than a million sea mines of more than 300 types in the inventories of more than 50 navies worldwide, not counting underwater IEDs that can be fashioned from virtually any container. More than 30 countries produce and more than 20 countries export mines. World-War I-era contact weapons bristling with “horns” can be as dangerous as highly sophisticated, computer-programmable, multi-influence mines that fire from the magnetic, acoustic, seismic, and pressure signatures of their victims. Ask Captain Paul Rinn, commanding officer of the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts, how a mine designed in 1908 can ruin your day.

Of particular concern are the mining capabilities of potential adversaries:

  • Russia reportedly has about a quarter-million mines
  • China, 80,000 to 100,000 mines
  • North Korea, perhaps 50,000 mines
  • Iran, 3,000 to 6,000 mines

Instead of discussing countermeasures to adversary weapons, this analysis is about our mines and mining in late 2016, how they might contribute to the Navy’s strategy, and where innovation might be leading us.

America’s Mines

America’s mines have been a factor in virtually every conflict since Ezra Lee navigated David Bushnell’s Turtle in a frustrated attempt to screw a “torpedo” – today what we would call a limpet mine – into the hull of Lord Howe’s flagship HMS Eagle in New York harbor on 6 September 1776. Therefore, it is not too much of a stretch to say that U.S. undersea warfare began with an IED/mine “event.”

Leaping over two centuries of U.S. Navy mine warfare history, during the Cold War, the Navy maintained a large stock of bottom mines for offense and defense. Several types of anti-submarine and anti-surface ship mines deployed by submarines and aircraft entered service in the 1950s and 1960s.

Later, mine inventories included Mark 36/40/41 Destructor shallow-water general-purpose 500/1,000/2,000-pound bombs fitted with mine target detection devices; the Destructor mines first deployed in 1967 and saw wide employment at sea and on land during the Vietnam War – some 11,000 DSTs were laid along jungle trails. The Mark 60 deepwater CAPTOR – enCAPsulated TORpedo – that encapsulated Mark 46 torpedoes within mine cases entered service in 1976, intended to block the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) gap to Soviet submarines in the event that deterrence failed. This was soon followed by the Mark 67 submarine-launched mobile mine – SLMM – that entered service in 1983 and could be covertly laid in vital areas.

A port view of the guided missile frigate USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58) in dry dock in Dubai, UAE, for temporary repairs. The frigate was damaged when it struck an Iranian naval mine while on patrol in the Persian Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo PH1 Chuck Mussi)

But with the end of the Cold War, the Navy’s mine capabilities began to atrophy. Today, no conventional mines remain in service, the CAPTORs have been retired, and at one point the Navy had programmed the remaining obsolescent SLMMs to be phased out in 2012. Had that been carried out, our attack submarines would have had no mining capability at all. As it was, only direct intercession by CNO Admiral Greenert saved a handful of SLMMs until something better comes along, if it ever does given competing submarine missions and tasks.

The only other mines in service in 2016 are the Quickstrike series of aircraft-deployed, general-purpose-bomb-converted Mark 62 500- and Mark 63 1,000-pound weapons (in service since 1980), and the dedicated, thin-wall Mark 65 2,300-pound bottom mine (in service since 1983).

Remarkably, the Navy has not introduced a new mine in almost 35 years, but not without the mine warfare community trying. Various concepts for littoral sea mines were suggested in the 1990s and early 2000s – one had the U.S. Navy collaborating with the Royal Navy, and the U.S. submarine force looked into a dual-purpose convertible Mark 48 heavyweight torpedo/mine – but these were ultimately not pursued.

Even upgrades to existing mines proved to be a hard sell. Work on the “next-generation” computer-programmable Mark 71 target detection device for the Quickstrikes began in 1991, but initial procurement began more than two decades later. Other priorities competed for attention and scarce resources.

Gulf of Thailand (July 5, 2004) – A MK 62 Quickstrike mine is deployed from the starboard wing of a P-3C Orion aircraft form the Grey Knights of Patrol Squadron Four Six (VP-46). (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Journalist Joseph Krypel)

That is revealed by Navy budgets since the fall of the Berlin Wall: on average less than one percent of Navy Total Obligational Authority has been spent on MIW, total, and the author believes mine programs get maybe five percent of that.

Even if resources could be found, however, the availability of aircraft, airborne tankers, and defensive escorts for mining campaigns is uncertain. There will certainly be intense competition for such aircraft in future crises and conflicts.

The 1991 Gulf War was the last time that the Navy deployed mines in combat. Four A-6 Intruders planted a tactical minefield of Quickstrikes at the mouth of the Kwahr az-Zubayr River to deny Iraqi access to the northern Gulf. One aircraft was lost to ground fire, and there were no indications that the mines actually sank or damaged any vessel. Aircraft-deployed Quickstrikes have less-than-optimal accuracy, even less precision, and are best deployed in less-than-contested environments and at dangerously low altitudes. Innovation in mines and mining directly addresses these operational challenges.

Reinvigorating the Mine Warfare Enterprise

As Major General Chris Owens, USMC, Director Expeditionary Warfare (N95) has underscored, “the strategic objective should be to make our adversaries worry about our mines as much as their weapons concern us.”

In September 2014, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) demonstrated an extended-range Quickstrike-ER – a modification of the 500-pound winged Joint Direct-Attack Munition (JDAM-ER) – dropped from an Air Force B-52H bomber at 35,000 feet. According to Air Force Colonel Mike Pietrucha speaking at the Mine Warfare Association seminar in November 2016, this was the first-ever deployment of a precision, standoff aerial mine. A subsequent effort among PACOM, the Navy, and the Air Force successfully tested a 2,000-pound Quickstrike-J deployed by a B-52H.

“This effort marked the first advance in aerial mine delivery techniques since 1943,” Pietrucha continued, “and demonstrated a capability that substantially changes the potential of aerial mining in a threat environment.”

This QuickStrike/JDAM innovation could have a revolutionary impact on U.S. mines and mining, as Colonel Pietrucha underscored: “The mines have JDAM accuracy with respect to their selected impact point on the water surface, and the ability to place a 2,000-pound mine within six meters of a specified aimpoint on the bottom at ranges greater than 40 nautical miles is unprecedented.”

The takeaway from these tests is that any pilot trained for and any aircraft equipped to drop the JDAM can be a mine-layer, not just once, but many times. And, in the case of USAF bombers – our only high-volume mine layers – an entire minefield can be laid in a single pass without directly overflying the minefield.    

Important for a Navy warfare area that sees its weapons and systems delivery stalled, Pietrucha noted, “Both variants are assembled entirely out of components already in the U.S. inventory, making these weapons possible without a protracted acquisition process.” The JDAM conversion kit costs about $20,000.

Future Smart Mines

Looking farther into the future, boffins at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Navy’s Surface Warfare Center, Panama City (NSWC-PC) are working on several innovative advanced undersea warfare systems (AUWS) that can be delivered by unmanned surface or submarine vehicles. 

In October 2014, Admiral James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Panama City to learn more about remote-controllable “smart mine” innovations. In January 2015, he accompanied Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work to explore how future smart mines could contribute to the Third Offset Strategy. Responding to such high-level DoD interest and a mining joint emergent operational need statement, investment in AUWS and something called the Modular Undersea Effectors System – MUSE – is ramping up.

Panama City’s MUSE envisions innovative mining using “encapsulated effectors” to carry out important tasks, in addition to mining.  The concept sees forward-deployed ­– on the seabed in international ocean space, much like SOSUS or CAPTORs – unmanned stationary nodes for remote or autonomous unmanned air/surface/undersea/seabed vehicles (UxVs) to populate the “encapsulated effectors.” These “effectors” include mines, torpedoes, missiles, decoys, jammers, communication nodes, electronic warfare payloads –virtually anything that can be packaged in UxVs and launched from seabed encapsulation nodes.

(November 1, 1989) – Airmen from the 42nd Munitions Maintenance Squadron prepare to load a Mark 60 CAPTOR (encapsulated torpedo) anti-submarine mine onto a 42nd Bombardment Wing B-52G Stratofortress aircraft during Ghost Warrior, a joint Air Force/Navy exercise conducted during the base’s conventional operational readiness inspection. ( USAF photo STAFF SGT. RUSS POLLANEN)

According to Panama City engineers, MUSE will be an “integral element of the kill web, offering distributed, forward, persistent, autonomous lethal and non-lethal undersea/seabed scalable effects across all phases of operations.” An encapsulated effector can achieve two orders of magnitude increase in effective range compared to Quickstrikes and SLMMs, greatly reducing the sortie burden on aircraft, submarines, or large UxVs.

The Navy intends to put in place an “Encapsulated Effector” program that would integrate the AUWS, MUSE and smart mine technologies into incrementally fielded capabilities. In short, the Navy’s mines and mining laboratory sees next-generation smart mines to be critical elements in what some observers call “sea-bed warfare”:

  • Deliverable by autonomous unmanned vehicles as well as manned aircraft, surface ships, and submarines
  • Remote controllable via wireless secure communications
  • Discriminating against an expanded target set

Conclusion

Churchill’s exhortation to look backward to see forward framed this discussion, so therefore, “Torpedoes [mines] are not so disagreeable when used on both sides,” Admiral David Farragut wrote to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles on 25 March 1864, several months before he damned the torpedoes in Mobile Bay, “therefore I have reluctantly brought myself to it. I have always deemed it unworthy of a chivalrous nation, but it does not do to give your enemy such a decided superiority over you.”

Perhaps with strong support and such asymmetric innovations as the extended-range JDAM-guided Quickstrike mines and MUSE, the U.S. Navy will enjoy “a decided superiority” over our adversaries – whether our mines are show stoppers or just speed bumps in future conflicts.

Scott Truver is a senior advisor to CNA and directs Gryphon Technologies’ TeamBlue national security programs.

Featured Image: BALTIC SEA (May 25, 2015) Members of a Latvian explosive ordnance disposal team use demolition charges to detonate a World War II-era German bottom-mine while conducting mine countermeasures operations in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Estonia during Exercise Open Spirit 2015. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Patrick A. Ratcliff/Released)

Nauru: A Lesson in Failure

Have you ever heard of Nauru? This small island of the South Pacific is not very well-known but its story could be representative of the one of humanity.

A little history

Nauru was formerly called “pleasant island” and if it may have been really pleasant, it is no longer the best tourist destination.

With its 21 square kilometers for less than 10 000 inhabitants, it is the second smallest state in the world after the Vatican.

As many islands in the South Pacific, Nauru was colonised by a European state in the 19th century. The German Empire settled in the small island to make it part of its protectorate of the Marshall Islands.

During this time, the Australian prospector Albert Fuller Ellis discovered phosphate in  Nauru’s underground. Phosphate is widely used in agriculture and is an essential component in fertiliser and feed.

After contracting an arrangement with  the German administration, Ellis began mining in 1906.

But soon, WWI happened and Australia, New Zealand and the UK took over Nauru and started administrating the island and its phosphate. In 1923, the League of Nations gave Australia a trustee mandate over Nauru, with the United Kingdom and New Zealand as co-trustee.

Then the Japanese troops occupied the small island during WWII. It’s only in 1968 that Nauru gained its independence, shortly after buying the assets of the phosphate companies. This enabled Nauru to become one of the richest island in the South Pacific.

All Used Up

Between 1968 and 2002, Nauru exported 43 millions of tons of phosphate for an amount of 3,6 billions Australian dollars. But 21 square kilometers is a small area to have mines everywhere and now there is no phosphate left.

The Land of the Fat

In the meantime, people of Nauru started having access to a lot of money and  to live the American way. Apart from phosphate, there are very few resources on the island. Therefore, most products were imported, including big American cars and fat food. It did not take long before inhabitants of Nauru  became the most obese people in the world, which led the British journal ‘The Independent’ to call Nauru ‘the land of the fat’. Indeed, according to the World Health Organisation, 97 percent of men and 93 percent of women in Nauru are overweight or obese.

Those people who used to eat fish, coconuts and root vegetables now eat imported processed foods which are high in sugar and fat. Now, more  than 40% of the population is affected with type 2 diabetes, cancers, kidney and heart disease.

Money, Money, Money

In the 80’s, Nauru was very rich. However, soon, growing corruption, bad investments and big spending on the government’s side made Nauru a very indebt country.

Nauru’s bank accounts are all in Australia, simply because there are no banks in Nauru (the only one left, the National Bank of Nauru is actually insolvent). In October 2014, an Australian court ruled that Nauru owed 16 million Australian dollars to US-based investment fund Firebird, which had lent money to the government of the small island. But  the government of Nauru did not respect the  court’s decision and it defaulted on the bonds. Since it did not reimburse Firebird, its debt soon amounted to 31 million Australian dollars. Firebird had then prevented Nauru’s government from accessing its bank accounts held in Australia and had frozen all of Nauru’s acounts. Nauru’s administration immediately warned that it was about to run out of cash and that it could not pay for essential goods, such as generator fuel, and public servant salaries. It would have been a national disaster because from the 10% people who have a job in Nauru, 95% are employed by the government. Nauru’s unemployment rate is estimated to be 90 percent. The government clearly needed money to buy fuel to produce energy, since it did not invest in renewable energies. Without fuel, no possibility to have a functioning hospital or to have fresh water, because sea water is pumped and then desalinated, a process that needs lot of energy. And without fuel, all the planes stick to the ground.

Finally, Nauru merely won the court case and did not have to repay Firebird. Is this decision linked to the fact that Nauru hosts Australia asylum-seekers in a detention center? Maybe. If all the planes stick to the ground, that means that the center is no longer running; every day, new asylum seekers come and  go, and so do doctors, lawyers and others.

Furthermore, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) declared that although Nauru’s administration has a strong public mandate to implement economic reforms, in the absence of an alternative to phosphate mining, the medium-term outlook is for continued dependence on external assistance (mainly from Australia and China). In 2007, the ADB estimated  Nauru GDP per capita at $2,400 to $2,715. That’s not a lot!

Public enemy n°1

In the 1990s, Nauru became a tax heaven and started selling passports to foreign nationals.

It led the inter-governmental body based in Paris, the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), to add Nauru to its list of 15  non-cooperative countries in its fight against money laundering. Experts estimate that Nauru triggered a $5 trillion shadow economy. According to Viktor Melnikov, previous deputy chairman of Russia’s central bank,  in 1998 Russian criminals laundered about $70 billion through Nauru. The island  started suffering the harshest sanctions imposed on any country, harsher than those against Iraq and Yugoslavia. European banks did no longer allow any dollar-denominated transactions which involved Nauru. This is why in 2003, under pressure from FATF, the government of  Nauru introduced anti-avoidance legislation. The result was quick: foreign capitals left the island. Two years later, satisfied by the legislation and its effects, the FATF removed Nauru from its black list.

The difficult relationship between Australia and Nauru

There is a very special relation between Australia and Nauru. Australia administered Nauru  from 1914 to 1968. However, Nauru did not seem entirely satisfied with the Australian administration. Indeed, in 1989, Nauru took legal action against its former master in front of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Nauru was attacking the Australian way of administrating the little island and in particular Australia’s failure to remedy the environmental damage caused by phosphate mining.

You can find the judgement here.

In 1993, Nauru and Australia notified the ICJ  that, having reached a settlement, the two parties had agreed to discontinue the proceedings : Australia had offered Nauru an out-of-court settlement of 2.5 million Australian dollars annually for 20 years.

In 2001, Australia asked Nauru to help it fight immigration. The two countries signed an agreement  known as “the Pacific solution”. In exchange for an important economic aid, the small island of 21 square meters agreed to host a detention center for people seeking asylum in Australia. This agreement officially came to an end in 2007 but the two countries are still looking for a solution to help Nauru’s economy survive. Which means the detention center is still running.

Furthermore,  we know that a significant portion of Nauru’s income comes in the form of aid from Australia. In 2008, Australia committed €17 million in aid for the 2009 financial year, along with assistance for “a plan aimed at helping Nauru to survive without aid.”

In November 2014, the Australian independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie wrote to the International Criminal Court (ICC) asking it to investigate Abbott’s government for crimes against humanity over its treatment of asylum seekers .

Abbott’s government has consistently argued that its offshore processing and resettlement policies have stopped people attempting to arrive in Australia by boat and therefore saved lives. For the moment, asylum seekers who arrive to Australia by boat will be refused visas and the ‘Pacific Solution’ is implemented; under this policy, asylum seekers arriving without authorisation are sent to Australian-funded detention camps in Nauru or the island of Manus in Papua New-Guinea rather than being allowed to claim asylum on the Australian mainland. In September 2014, Canberra paid 40 million Australian dollars to the government of Cambodia for Phnom Penh to welcome asylum seekers from Australia. Furthermore, a new legislation from September 2014 will make it harder for asylum seekers already in Australia who arrived by boat to make visa applications.

Nauru’s diplomacy

After having sold many passports, the Nauru’s government decided to communicate on positive actions.

In 2008, immediately after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, Nauru recognised it as an independent country.

One year later, along with Russia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, Nauru recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway regions from Georgia. After a war with Georgia, Moscow had tried to secure international recognition for the two regions. According to the Russian newspaper  ‘Kommersant’, Russia gave $50 million in humanitarian aid to the little Pacific state.

Nauru is Kiribati’s neighbour, an atoll famous for disappearing and for sending the first climate change refugees abroad, to Fiji. With no space left to grow food or to live, no fresh water and always more refugees coming, the people of Nauru might also desert their island soon.

Hopefully, the story of the small island of Nauru will not be a sample to the history of humanity’s little island orbiting the sun!

Alix is a writer, researcher, and correspondent on the Asia-Pacific region for Marine Renewable Energy LTD. She previously served as a maritime policy advisor to the New Zealand Consul General in New Caledonia and as the French Navy’s Deputy Bureau Chief for State Action at Sea, New Caledonia Maritime Zone

Defeating Floating IEDs with USVs

By CDR Jeremy Thompson, USN

This concept proposal explores a technology solution to the problem of risk to first responders when identifying, neutralizing, and exploiting “surface-floating” maritime improvised explosive devices (SF/MIEDs).

Does the Navy need a maritime equivalent of the Talon Counter-IED robot?
Does the Navy need a maritime equivalent of the Talon Counter-IED robot?

When considering the proliferation of technology for use against land-based improvised explosive devices (IEDs), it may be puzzling to many observers why remote IED Defeat (IEDD) technologies, particularly robots, have yet to fully cross over into the maritime domain. Although some unmanned underwater vehicle programs designed for limpet mine-like object detection on ships are in development, much less attention has been given to countering SF/MIEDs. In general, the purpose of MIEDs is to destroy, incapacitate, harass, divert, or distract targets such as ships, maritime critical infrastructure and key resources (CI/KR), and personnel. MIEDs may also present obstacles (real or perceived) with the purpose of area denial or egress denial. As a subset of the MIED family, the “surface-floating” MIED operates on the water’s surface in environments such as harbors, the littorals, the riparian, and the open ocean. It may be either free floating or self-propelled, with remote control (manual or pre-programmed) or with no control (moves with the current). It is a tempting low-tech, low-cost option for an adversary.

Thankfully, SF/MIED incidents have been rare in recent times, the last significant use occurring during the Vietnam war. Nonetheless, a capability gap is highlighted by the challenge they represent—namely, that a human must unnecessarily expose themselves to the object. One material solution to a surface-floating IED may be to develop an IED Defeat Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) around a design philosophy based on IEDD robots used in land warfare. Protection of high value units and critical infrastructure / key resources would be its primary missions along with counter-area denial. Its most likely operating environment would be CI/KR dense areas such as harbors and seaports as well as the riparian environment since rivers are constricted in the water space available to shipping to maneuver around SF/MIED threats. A key element of design philosophy in an IEDD USV would be to meet the expectations of the customer—the first responder. Military explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) units and civilian bomb squads are much more likely to accept a platform in which the console and all other human interface features are nearly identical in look, placement, feel, and responsiveness as the most popular robots they have been accustomed to operating such as the TALON robot by QinetiQ and Packbot by iRobot.

A functional hierarchy could be drawn around major tasks such as reacquisition of a suspected surface-floating IED, identify/classify, threat removal, neutralization, and recovery of the IED for exploitation. Modularized payload packages to execute these tasks may include a towing package, an attachments package (e.g. hooks, magnets), a neutralization tool package to include both precision and general disruption EOD tools, an explosives, chemical, and radiological detection package, and an electronic counter-measures package.

Numerous trade-offs between weight, power, stability, and the complexity of modular packages would need to be considered and tested, however, variants like a “high-low” combination of a complex and simple USV working together may minimize some of the trade-off risk. If an IEDD USV were to be developed key recommendations include:

  • Official liaison between NAVSEA (US Naval Sea Systems Command) between PMS-406 (Unmanned Maritime Systems) and PMS-408 (EOD/CREW program) to ensure the transfer of USV expertise between PMS divisions.
  • A DOTMLPF assessment to determine whether limpet mines or surface-floating IEDs are more likely and more dangerous to U.S. assets and personnel given the uncertainty of future naval operations.
  • Including civilian bomb squads in the design and development process early to increase the potential for demand and cross-over with the law enforcement sector and therefore reduced long-term program costs.

Current UUV programs under development include the Hull UUV Localization System (HULS) and Hovering Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (HAUV).

This article was re-posted by permission from, and appeared in its original form at NavalDrones.com.