Tag Archives: Strategy

Maritime Janus

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January is named for the Roman God Janus, the two-faced deity of the doorway or the threshold.  With one face looking toward the future, and the other contemplating the past, Janus inspires the annual reviews of naval affairs  as well as the predictions for the future that we see in the naval blogosphere.  New Years 2013 in the maritime world is no different than in years past.

Over at Information Dissemination our favorite China shipyard-watcher Feng has a great post summarizing where the People’s Liberation Army Navy has been in the past year.  Two things caught our eye in reading through Feng’s summary.  First, seeing it all laid out in one place really emphasizes the capacity that is being developed by Chinese shipyards.  For all the discussion of a dwindling industrial base in the United States, it is interesting to watch the pace of work in the Chinese shipbuilding industry.  Second, we shouldn’t miss the massive construction underway for the maritime policing and Coast Guard equivalents in the People’s Republic.  USCG cutters routinely deploy globally, sailing with USN ships in the Arabian Gulf and Pacific as well as the regular patrol of our backyard in the Caribbean.  As China continues to build cutters and grows the size of their maritime security forces, we should expect them to develop interoperability with the PLAN in the same way the USCG and USN have developed their concept of The National Fleet.  This melding of law enforcement patrol with military operations (based on a model provided by the Americans) in the South and East China Seas will continue to complicate the issues there.

Also at ID, CDR Bryan McGrath gives us a quick look at some highlights for I&W to watch for in 2013.  We were glad to see him place the Blue/Green Team as his top item to keep an eye on.  The Marines need to get over their fears of another Guadalcanal and return to their historic roots as an integrated part of naval forces.  The Navy needs to overcome their self-consciousness about their comparative lack of recent combat experience and learn to look to the Marines for ideas and help in developing new concepts.  It is time that both forces genuinely came together as an integrated, hybrid force rather than a pair of brothers constantly arm wrestling over who side is “supported” and who is “supporting.”  We also note that discussions about the future of the Air Wing are on CDR McGrath’s list.  That’s easy for a former SWO to say, but he’s right.  The Naval Aviators amongst us are going to have to realize that there need to be some serious changes.  Hard thinking, innovative ideas, and practical experimentation and testing will be required…humming “Highway to the Danger Zone” and quoting Goose and Slider will only give our adversaries more time to realize our weaknesses and take advantage of them.  Maverick told us that you don’t have time to think up there…unfortunately today’s challenges require us to have people who are practiced and capable thinkers.

Elsewhere online the sometimes genial, sometimes grumpy, CDR Salamander takes a broader view toward the future at his blog.  Strategy is the matching of ends, ways, and means.  Sal points out that the United States must figure out the last part, with an honest and genuine assessment of the national financial status.  Without it, developing “the ends” of national policy, and “the ways” of a sound Naval policy and shipbuilding plan, is impossible.  That honest assessment…it isn’t going to be pretty.  It has some very serious ramifications for the Department of the Navy, but also for every single part of American society.

We encourage you to follow the links and read the posts.  There is some serious thinking here, some deep analysis, and some quick ideas that can help us frame the coming year – all worth your time.  Janus is the namesake of the first month of the year and serves as a symbol of our New Year’s passion for self-assessment.  He also serves as a fantastic symbol for naval analysts in general as we attempt to clarify the lessons of the past to illuminate our way into the future.  If you’re still feeling a need for speed though, check this out to get your 2013 off to the right start.

The Firm of Maynard, Cushing, & Ellis does not represent the opinions of anyone that matters.  Formed by Lieutenant Robert Maynard RN, Lieutenant William Cushing USN, and Captain Pete Ellis USMC, the firm doesn’t speak for the US Government, the Department of Defense, The Foreign Office, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Department of Silly Walks.

Swarms at Sea and Out-swarming the Swarms?

The Swarming Synchronized Speedboats of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy Revue

This week Foreign Policy posted a new article by Navy Postgraduate School professor John Arquilla, in which he discusses the how “swarm” tactics employed by the Russians caused the failure of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion.

Arquilla is a prolific author who regularly writes about swarms and “net-centric” operations.  In the above piece he cites successful maritime employment of swarm tactics such as German submarine “wolf-packs” in the Second World War and the Sri Lankan Navy’s fight against maritime elements of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or “Tamil Tigers”) earlier this decade.

It is unclear how Arquilla’s example of the Russian defeat of Napoleon is applicable to a broad range of operations at sea, however.  When swarms are discussed in terms of maritime operations, it is generally in the context of an asymmetric fight within a constrained body of water, such as Iranian plans to use swarms of small boats or the Chinese Type 22 Houbei fast attack craft.  Napoleon’s Grand Armee was vulnerable to Russian swarm attacks on the march back from Moscow because of its extended supply lines.  In contrast, one of the primary advantages of sea power is that it provides the space for strategic maneuver and the ability to avoid such exposure to swarms.  Swarms and Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) weapons and tactics could still threaten naval forces within specific areas in which the ability to maneuver is restricted, or are within the range of weapons on land, but they do not take away one of the main advantages of sea power, the ability for a state to choose where to best deploy its forces.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence Officer and currently serves on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence and onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Bridging the Moat

Professor Mearsheimer as a Cadet at West Point. As a work of the US Government, this image is not subject to copyright.

Late summer has arrived in Annapolis, bringing the Brigade of Midshipmen back with it to the Naval Academy. The halls echo anew with the footsteps of midshipmen and I hear the muffled, disembodied voices of my colleagues delivering lectures through the walls. As I begin the teaching/learning cycle anew, first principles have often been on my mind. Today, I want to look at Seasteading through one of the first principles of the realist school of international relations theory. A major tenant of security studies supported by many realists is the so-called “Stopping Power of Water,” a term taken from Prof. John Mearsheimer’s The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. As part of our continuing focus on Seasteading and Sea-Based Nations (SBNs), I’m going to examine possible effects that SBNs may have on the stopping power of water and on the stability of the current international order.

In Prof. Mearsheimer’s opus outlining offensive realism, he describes “the stopping power of water” primarily as a barrier to power projection (particularly an amphibious assault):

Water is usually not a serious obstacle for a navy that is transporting ground forces across an ocean and landing them in a friendly state. But water is a forbidding barrier when a navy attempts to deliver an army onto territory controlled and well-defended by a rival great power. Navies are therefore at a significant disadvantage when attempting amphibious operations against powerful land-based forces (Page 114).

The policy aim of war (to paraphrase Clausewitz: “imposing one’s will on an enemy”) is very difficult to achieve – under Mearsheimer’s reasoning – without the use of land power. In other words, Mearsheimer believes that political change rarely occurs through the use of sea power alone (i.e. though blockades or other similar measures), and that states separated from others by large bodies of water can easily resist most ground assaults. Therefore, the greatest security threats arise from territorially connected states (think Germany and France in the 20th Century), or from states who can transport ground troops to a territorially connected ally (think Kuwait and the United States versus Iraq in the Gulf War).

How could SBNs affect the stopping power of water? Could they bridge the protective moat of the world’s oceans? Let’s imagine the full realization of seasteaders’ dreams: a world with thousands or tens of thousands of SBNs, all innovating different forms of government while sustaining a steady populations of hundreds of thousands or millions of seasteaders in locations both near the coast and far out on the open ocean. Would the world’s seas hold more, less, or the same amount of stopping power as before?

Sea-Based Nations wouldn’t change the objective difficulty of assaulting the beaches of great powers like China or the United States. However, if states could use SBNs located near an adversary through either diplomacy or conquest, then that SBN could serve as a staging base for the invading country’s forces. Think how difficult it would have been for the Allies to invade Europe without the United Kingdom nearby. As noted earlier this week, a SBN could serve in the same manner, but with some key differences I’ll discuss later. Island bases affect something I’ve talked about before called the “Loss of Strength Gradient,” yielding significant advantages to the owner. Looked at another way, SBNs represent larger, more capable Afloat Forward Staging Bases. Since they would be sustained by citizens and their economic activities, they might become the “poor nation’s aircraft carrier,” particularly if they are engineered to have some kind of propulsion.

While the stopping power of water itself seems like it would remain intact, the proliferation of SBNs could start a new Great Game among world powers as they vie for influence or control with/over new maritime city-states in order to gain an advantage over other potential opponents. The existence of many SBNs that are – to some degree – mobile in their physical location and political alliances and vulnerable to even second- or third-rate navies could damage that portion of global stability that comes from the vastness of the world’s oceans. Paradoxically, this means that instead of obtaining greater freedom from established governments, SBNs might invite more attention from great powers who seek to gain an advantage over a potential adversary. I don’t pretend to know what effects this attention and interest might have on the domestic politics of SBNs, but they strike me as both potentially significant and damaging to the stated goal of seasteaders to break from established forms of government.

SBNs do differ in many important ways from Great Britain in World War II. For one, they can be sunk: even the most solidly build floating platforms would be vulnerable to attack, particularly from torpedoes. For another, they need to be flagged by an existing country, at least under my limited knowledge of current admiralty law. These facts could influence their foreign policies in important ways.

Given the potential instability SBNs could introduce to the balance of power, it’s also interesting to consider whether great powers would seriously allow their formation.

It seems easy to conceive of SBNs as communities allowed to evolve in isolation, but their very existence will affect the strategic calculus of the world’s great powers. As a result, they may not even be allowed to evolve as they may wish. Conversely, the growth of a diverse array of SBNs would challenge some of the key principles of realism. Regardless, SBNs promise to drastically alter the way we think about international relations.

LT Kurt Albaugh, USN is President of the Center for International Maritime Security, a Surface Warfare Officer and Instructor in the U.S. Naval Academy’s English Department. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Winter is Coming

Heat waves, rising temperatures, and retreating ice grab headlines today. However, receding sea ice in the Arctic and a concurrent increase in shipping traffic will intensify attention on the globe’s (still) frigid northern reaches. Though the United States issued a forward-looking Arctic policy with National Security Presidential Directive 66 in 2009, it has not seriously faced the implications of matching these policy goals to strategic ends and backing its interests in the region with capital investments. Our Canadian allies have, and we should seek to learn from their experience.

The Arctic was important to Canada and the United States well before the ice started melting.

Canada’s adaptation to the Arctic’s changing maritime geography is instructive. For starters, it serves as a reminder of Canada’s importance as an ally of the United States. Geography, heritage, and shared sacrifice have forged a special relationship between Canada and the United States and, like the Night’s Watch in the cold Northern reaches of the fictional world in Game of Thrones, I think we too infrequently give them proper credit for their support of our defense. This isn’t the first era requiring US-Canadian security cooperation in the Arctic – both countries jointly manned the “Distant Early Warning” Line of radar stations above the Arctic Circle during the Cold War.

The United States can look to Canada’s experience in matching ends, ways, and means in a new Arctic geography while under austere fiscal constraints to inform our own decisions as we contemplate our role in the region.

Canada is an Arctic nation, and this identity figures heavily in the Canada First Defence Strategy. Among the most important declarations in the strategy:

In Canada’s Arctic region, changing weather patterns are altering the environment, making it more accessible to sea traffic and economic activity. Retreating ice cover has opened the way for increased shipping, tourism and resource exploration, and new transportation routes are being considered, including through the Northwest Passage. While this promises substantial economic benefits for Canada, it has also brought new challenges from other shores. These changes in the Arctic could also spark an increase in illegal activity, with important implications for Canadian sovereignty and security and a potential requirement for additional military support.

and:

Canadian Forces must have the capacity to exercise control over and defend Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. New opportunities are emerging across the region, bringing with them new challenges. As activity in northern lands and waters accelerates, the military will play an increasingly vital role in demonstrating a visible Canadian presence in this potentially resource rich region.

Canada First proposes Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) as the primary strategic means to accomplish the policy goal of demonstrating a visible Canadian presence in the Arctic. In early July of this year, the Canadian Government announced a preliminary contract to draft an execution strategy for the project and execute a design review of the proposed vessel, which will be based on the Norwegian Svalbard-class of ships. While representing a significant step towards realizing Canada’s goals in the Arctic, the proposed class has received a fair amount of domestic criticism. Some Canadians call the design too small, too light, and too slow. Others point to the vessel’s lack of armament, though some propose incorporating space for future weapons systems into the design. A final criticism of the class is that it is designed for light icebreaking duties, earning them the moniker “slushbreakers” in the Canadian American Strategic Review. Vessels designed for polar cruising typically conform to a “Polar Class” indicating a specific level of icebreaking capability. The proposed AOPS will be Polar Class 5, which means “Year round operation in medium first-year ice which may include old ice inclusions,” and represents the lowest year-round capability to negotiate polar waters.

A portent of future Arctic FONOPS?

The AOPS represents, as some Arctic watchers have noted, a compromise between an offshore patrol vessel and a dedicated Arctic warship. This is the essential difficulty in planning an Arctic force structure: though the ice is retreating, there is still plenty of it and significant seasonal variations present new design challenges to Naval and/or Coast Guard vessels. True Arctic vessels require completely different hull, mechanical and engineering systems that significantly impact their tactical performance. No bow mounted sonar. Poor speed and maneuverability. Et cetera. Indeed, given the fact that American and Soviet/Russian submarines have a long, distinguished history of operating under the sea ice, I would question a surface vessel’s ability to operate in a submarine threat environment while noisily plowing through ice floes. This is just one challenge among many to tactical surface operations in the Arctic, and they are probably the reason why (as noted at Information Dissemination yesterday) the US Navy hasn’t seriously considered itself an Arctic player beyond ICEX and some limited research and development projects.

There are similarities between Canadian and US Arctic policy. While, geographically speaking, Canada seems to have a stronger need for an Arctic presence due to its more extensive maritime claims in the region, the Bering Strait – a critical choke point – is in Alaska’s back yard. US policy for the Arctic includes the following as summarized in a recent report:

The USA names several military challenges with implications for the Arctic, including missile defense and early warning; deployment of sea and air systems for strategic sealift, strategic deterrence, maritime presence, and maritime security operations; and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.

It’s possible to fulfill many of these goals with submarines, but once the discussion veers towards sealift, missile defense, and freedom of navigation, a polar surface combatant seems a necessary part of an Arctic force structure. The United States will have to answer many key questions raised by these stated goals:

  1. Should Navy, Coast Guard, or joint assets fulfill these roles?
  2. How important is it to the United States to lead the exploration and militarization of the Arctic?
  3. What metrics of civil use and sea ice change will determine the extent and timing of the United States’ Arctic presence?
  4. What functions can/should an Arctic ship fulfill?
  5. How does receding ice impact the existing Polar Classification system? What baseline of Polar Class is appropriate to Arctic warships/coast guard cutters?

Answering these questions is the work of strategy, and it’s telling that a recent letter signed by both of Alaska’s senators requested just such a strategy. If the United States does forge a detailed Arctic plan, it would do well to consider the experience of Canada’s government. Canada has pioneered the militarization of the Arctic region and revealed many of the challenges inherent in operating beyond “The Wall.”

LT Kurt Albaugh, USN is President of the Center for International Maritime Security, a Surface Warfare Officer and Instructor in the U.S. Naval Academy’s English Department. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.