All posts by Doyle

LCS Survivability Debate: What the Data Doesn’t Tell Us

“Facts are meaningless.  You can use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true. Facts, schmacts.”  

-Homer Simpson, from Lisa the Skeptic

100617-N-1200S-914Both Steven Wills in his USNI Blog opinion piece and Chuck Hill in his response trot out some interesting numbers in support of diametrically opposed positions on the survivability of LCS.  According to Wills, the US Navy lost ships under 3400 tons at a much higher rate than larger vessels in WWII.  Hill looks at the numbers and comes to the opposite conclusion.  The debate reminds me of the recent statistical dustup over the Patriots’ propensity to fumble that has accompanied Deflategate.  And the numbers are just about as meaningful.

Wills asserts that the US Navy lost 71 destroyers and 11 destroyer escorts in WWII.  Hill makes that number to be 58 destroyers and 9 destroyer escorts.  From what I can tell, they’re both wrong.  Using the summary report for ship losses to enemy action from 17 October 1941-7 December 1944, the US Navy lost 134 destroyers and 16 destroyer escorts through December 1944.  I could not easily find numbers from December 1944 through the war’s end, but the fact that these figures do not include losses from the Battle of Okinawa suggest that the actual number of destroyer losses for the whole war was closer to 150.  Over the period of the report, the US Navy also lost 51 cruisers (CA and CL), 22 battleships, and 39 aircraft carriers (combining CV, CVL, and CVE losses).   

After citing the number of losses, Hill uses the fate of vessels in commission at the start of the war to extrapolate survivability statistics for all vessels.  Statistically, this is highly suspect.  As Hill points out, the US fleet at the start of the war included just 233 major surface combatants.  But between 1941 and 1945, the US built over 1,300 more major surface combatants, including 349 DD’s and 498 DE’s.  Those ships in commission at the start of the war are a non-random sample, since they would tend to be older, slower, and less likely to incorporate new weapons, sensors, and other technologies that could affect survivability, unless backfitted during the war.  The US had no DE’s in commission at the start of the war, further skewing the sample.  

The numbers in the two reports point out some of the challenges with getting accurate data: since the US had no DE’s in commission at the start of the war, all 16 DE losses should come from those commissioned 1941-1945.  But only 9 are annotated as “sunk” in the shipbuilding report.  Similarly, 32 of the 349 DD’s commissioned during the war are listed as “sunk,” which when added to Hill’s figure of 29 destroyers in commission at the start of the war that were sunk comes nowhere close to the figure of 134 destroyers lost (nor even to Wills’ figure of 71, although it is over Hill’s figure of 58).  But it doesn’t matter.

falklands warThe most significant figure in the WWII ship loss data is zero.  That’s the number of ships lost to anti-ship cruise missiles.  While it’s tempting to try to draw equivalencies between threats in WWII and threats today, the simple fact is that war at sea looks different today than it did then.  The Falklands campaign, in which the Royal Navy lost two ships (a 5,000 ton destroyer and a 15,000 ton logistic ship) to Exocet missiles, and another five vessels (one LCU, two Type 21 frigates of 3,290 tons, a destroyer of 5,000 tons, and an auxiliary of 6,000 tons) to aerial bombs, may provide a more relevant frame of reference.  British ship losses in the Falkland campaign totaled two of 15 frigates and two of 12 destroyers or larger.  While these numbers are helpful, it’s worth remembering the facts behind the data: the RN were limited in their mobility by the need to protect the landing force; the Argentinians were operating at the outer limits of their range, limiting the duration of engagements.  And with such a small sample, it’s risky to draw too-strong conclusions.  

The most significant contributor to ship survivability is not getting hit.  Hill argues that LCS will not be a priority target due to its small size and relative unimportance.  Such an argument depends on the presence of perceived higher-value targets to draw fire.  But the whole nature of the A2/AD problem is that it creates too much risk to put high-value targets under the threat umbrella.  If LCS is the only surface platform we’ve got in the fight, it will be the platform that the adversary targets.  (Worse, if LCS is heavily dependent on the proximity of vulnerable combat logistics force ships to stay in the fight, an adversary may not need to target LCS at all, choosing instead to sink the oilers, rendering LCS immobile and irrelevant.)

The debate about LCS survivability is important, especially as we look to up-arm the ships and give them more offensive punch.  And, given the program’s history of overly-optimistic estimates of cost and capability, I understand why analysts would prefer to “go to the data,” rather than relying on assurances of improved survivability and defensive capability.  But unfortunately, we don’t have access to survivability data in an unclassified debate.  In the absence of the models and simulations that have been run on LCS versus modern threats, looking for examples from the past of different ship types versus different threats only clouds the picture.  In short, going back to World War II data to try to prove a point about the survivability of large ships versus small ships in modern combat is about as relevant as pointing out that USS Constitution, a ship of only 1,500 tons, was so survivable that she earned the name, “Old Ironsides.”  

Doyle Hodges is a retired Surface Warfare Officer currently pursuing PhD studies at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

What is International Maritime Security?

Navies are expensive.  In the case of the U.S. Navy, they’re really expensive.  A quick review of the SIPRI world defense spending database shows over 40 coastal nations whose entire defense budget would not buy a single Arleigh Burke-class destroyer at 2011-2012 prices.

“Perhaps we could try car-sharing?”

Many of us who read and contribute to this forum are professionals in Maritime Security.  As such, we tend to take for granted the importance of Navies and the positive role that Navies play in the international system.  We have been conditioned to believe that Navies are worth the cost.  But looking at the disparity in naval spending among maritime nations, it seems that not all nations share the same view of the relative dollar value of maritime security[i].  In an era of sharply declining defense budgets, and a maritime strategy that, while it places warfighting first, places heavy emphasis on the cooperative and international nature of maritime power, it’s worth asking whether navies are, in fact, cooperating in pursuit of a common goal.  If so, what is that goal?  The question, as suggested by the title of this forum, is: What exactly is “international maritime security?”

Security itself is a dependent concept.  It’s not enough to say that a country is secure.  It must be secure from something or someone.  A reasonable working definition of maritime security might be “freedom from the risk of serious incursions against a nation’s sovereignty launched from the maritime domain, and from the risk of successful attack against a nation’s maritime interests.”  In the absence of a specified threat, how much “security” a nation needs to defend against those incursions or attacks is speculative, at best.  That makes the problem of defining international security more challenging—in order to be international, both the interests and the threat must be held in common by two or more nations.  And, while an interest and threat held in common by just two nations might be international in the strictest sense of the word, the connotation of “international security” is of interests held widely throughout the international community.

Some naval missions seem to be inherently international and cooperative.  Securing sea lines of communication is a great example.  In the introduction to the U.S. maritime strategy, the authors gravely proclaim that, “Our Nation’s interests are best served by fostering a peaceful global system comprised of interdependent networks of trade, finance, information, law, people, and governance.  We prosper because of this system of exchange among nations, yet recognize it is vulnerable to a range of disruptions that can produce cascading and harmful effects far from their sources.”  Sure, maintaining the security of this global system serves our own interests, but we are quick to point out that in doing so, we are helping the interests of others, too.

Although we in the U.S. Navy are proud of our role keeping the oceans safe for commerce, many other nations might reasonably ask, “safe from what?”  Piracy is certainly one example, but does it justify the cost of a Navy?  The global economic cost of maritime piracy has been estimated at $7 billion – $12 billion annually.  Somali piracy in particular was more recently estimated at $7 billion annually.  In contrast, the U.S. Navy budget alone is about $160 billion per year.  With numbers like that, it’s difficult to make the economic case that Navies are a good answer to piracy, even when the human cost of piracy is factored in.  About 3,800 seafarers were attacked and 35 killed by pirates in 2011.  Sticking to water-related hazards, this pales in comparison to the 9,000 bathroom fatalities in the U.S. alone in 1999.

One answer to this critique has been to assert that other nations are free to define their maritime security narrowly because the U.S. defines maritime security broadly.  According to this argument, the U.S. as a global maritime power must maintain open sea lanes all around the world; other nations, especially those whose trade ties are mostly regional, can hitch a free ride on our security at a fraction of the cost.  Such a critique has an intuitive appeal, but it can’t be proved, since to do so would require a definitive measurement of the economic and human costs of the absence of U.S. efforts.  Nevertheless, some version of the free rider argument is at the heart of many calls for increased defense burden sharing, and the desire to have other nations pick up at least a portion of the tab for “low-end” missions that are perceived to benefit all nations, rather than serving strictly U.S. interests.

The Prisoner Fisherman’s Dilemma

The parable of the tragedy of the commons offers an interesting perspective on free-riding, burden sharing, and international maritime security.  Writing in 1968 in the journal Science, biologist Garrett Hardin suggested that when there is a public resource—a commons—which is limited and diminished by use, but can be used by individuals without marginal usage cost, each individual will tend to increase their use (grazing herds in his example) until the resource itself is exhausted.  According to this view, which has great traction in economic circles, each person expects to derive greater benefit from increasing their own use rather than showing restraint, since they expect their neighbors to likewise show no such restraint.  If the commons are going to be depleted anyway, why not get mine?  It is in such a situation that free riding becomes both possible and problematic.  When a wealthy neighbor takes the time and money to fence off parts of the pasture and let it recover, everyone benefits; however the wealthy neighbor alone bears the cost, not only of the restoration efforts, but also of the outrage from their fellow cattlemen that they violated the concept of the commons by fencing it off.    The wealthy neighbor does have some recourse: to begin with, because he is caring for the resource itself, rather than just his own herd, he has a legitimate moral claim against his fellow cattlemen; depending on his own pain threshold, he may try to make good on that claim by withholding his public service (whether in the fenced off area or more widely) until his neighbors begin to pay their share.  Pursuing that course, however, comes with a risk—if he’s not willing to bear the pain of seeing the commons fall into disrepair, his neighbors may effectively call his bluff and he will go back to caring for the public good out of his own pocket.  To many, this seems an apt metaphor for the predicament of the U.S. in security affairs.

The oceans are often described as a “maritime commons;” is there a corresponding “tragedy of the maritime commons?”  Yes and no.  One of the key aspects of Hardin’s metaphor is that the resource itself is limited and diminished by use.  Global commerce has no limiting feature, and while the sea lanes may become more crowded, they are no less available if more trade takes to the seas.  Since the resource itself is not diminished or threatened by use, U.S. efforts to secure the sea lanes are not really efforts to secure the commons, but to protect U.S. interests in the form of trade.  While other nations may benefit from this, we would do it whether they benefited or not.  In such a case, the international aspect of our maritime security interest is purely coincidental.  We may be happy or unhappy with the level of help from other nations, but we have no leverage to encourage them to give more or less.

Fisheries protection, on the other hand, is an example of an international maritime security interest where the tragedy of the commons has been very real and very costly.  According to a study funded jointly by the UK government and the Pew Charitable trusts, illegal fishing costs between $10 and $23 billion annually.  These figures, comparable to piracy in scope, often have an immediate impact on the lives of local populations, and at least one study has suggested that fishery depletion from illegal fishing is a contributing cause of maritime piracy.

Missions like fisheries protection aren’t terribly sexy.  In the U.S., we have normally assigned these missions to NOAA or Coast Guard personnel.  For many other nations, however, this is a central Navy mission.

Seeking common ground in international maritime security is good practice, not only from an economic perspective, but also because it increases our understanding of regional partners and problems, potentially affording the opportunity to stop an emerging crisis before it ever develops.  But our definition of international maritime security must go further than, “other navies do the same things we do, and help foot the bill.”  If the USN is to meaningfully pursue international maritime security we must seek out areas where we truly share common interests, common threats, and common resources.

CDR Doyle Hodges is a Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy. He has commanded a rescue and salvage ship in the Pacific and a destroyer in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Middle East.  He is the Chairman of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Seamanship and Navigation 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, the U.S. Navy, or the U.S. Naval Academy.


[i] For more accurate comparison of the relative value each country places on security, it is more useful to compare defense expenditure as a percentage of GDP, as found here than total outlay.  While the CIA does not break out naval expenditures separately, total defense spending serves as a useful, though not perfect, proxy.

Sea-Based Nations and Sovereignty: What Makes a Nation-state?

Not your typical pirate mothership

To me, one of the more interesting assertions made by Randy Henrickson in his CIMSEC interview was this: “To avoid legally being a pirate, seasteads will have to flag themselves with the flag of an existing nation and partner up. As seasteading matures and grows, we foresee seasteads eventually breaking off when they have enough of their own economic power and population to no longer need to be binded to existing governments, when they’re at a point where they can be recognized by others as a micro-nation.”

 

There are a couple of interesting elements here: first, the notion that activities which are legal and even encouraged when done under the aegis of a flag might be considered illegal if done without such protection (although, depending on the specific activities Henrickson contemplates, piracy might not be the specific crime); second why would a nation be willing to “spin-off” an economically fruitful “micro-nation” whether at sea or on land?

 

This second question underscores the ambition of the seasteading project.  Up to this point in human history, every time a new nation-state has emerged, it has been tied with a specific piece of territory.  And, unfortunately, most newly sovereign states have experienced some degree of violence in achieving their independence.  Whether independence was achieved by revolution, decolonization, or partition, a greater or lesser degree of political violence has frequently accompanied it, either before or shortly after independence.  Partly, this stems from the physical, historical, and emotional attachment that human beings have to territory.  Partly it stems from the challenges of identity in forming both a nation and a state.[1]  But it also stems from the economic benefit that the larger nation derives from activity within the smaller territory.   To suppose that a flag state would willingly give up the economic benefit they derive from a productive seastead may be a bit optimistic.

 

Of course, the flag nation willingly letting go is only half the problem facing a seastead as it tries to make the transition to micro-nation.  If the emerging nation is not recognized by the international community, either broadly, or at least by a champion powerful enough to coerce non-interference, the seastead is left for all practical purposes as a ship without a flag (which may be what Mr. Hencken meant by a pirate vessel).  Established U.S. statutory and case law, as well as some international law, suggests that such a vessel enjoys no protection against any state which seeks to exercise jurisdiction over it.  A flagged vessel enjoys the sovereign protection of the flag state; an unflagged vessel or a vessel flagged to a nation not recognized as sovereign has no such protection.

 

That sovereignty is really the heart of the question.  A seastead seeking to transition to a sea-based nation is trying to manufacture sovereignty where there previously was none.  On the day before transition, the seastead is effectively a ship—a little shard of another nation’s sovereignty acting on a global commons.  On the day after, the ship has ceased to be a shard of another nation and has become a nation in its own right—a small one, to be sure—but a nation with all the same rights, responsibilities, and sovereignty of any other nation.

 

Michael Walzer, an influential thinker on just war theory and international relations, offers a view on morality in the international system, centered on the concept of sovereignty.  Drastically simplified, Walzer offers the view that the only crime in the international system that justifies the use of force is aggression, which he defines as the violation of a nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  While some aspects Walzer’s theory are not universally accepted, he neatly encapsulate a powerful school of thinking which highlights a couple of challenges that the aspiring seasteader, especially of the mobile variety, must overcome.

 

First, sovereignty has traditionally been closely aligned with territorial integrity.  Inherent in the notion of territorial integrity is, well, territory.  How do you define sovereignty and territorial integrity in the case of a platform that is inherently mobile and not tied to any territory at all?  Whatever other challenges may attend the new nation of South Sudan, no one in the international community is worried that the nation will decide to pick up the country and move because they like the climate, resources, or economic opportunities better in Morocco.  If a seastead were to maneuver into the EEZ of a coastal nation, whose sovereignty would have precedence?  Outside of an EEZ, why should other sea-faring nations accede to a new entity exerting sovereignty over a portion of the sea that was previously open to everyone?  If the sea based nation wanted to move elsewhere on the high seas, would they exert sovereignty over that new location, too?

 

In search of a better deal

The Second—and by my view the more difficult challenge—is explaining the incentive for the international community to accept the sovereignty of a newly formed sea-based nation at all.  While the threat may be small, the aspiring nation offers a potential challenger for resources, ranging from seabed minerals to the tax revenues brought in by businesses.  With sovereignty comes the right to defend that sovereignty—what incentive does a coastal state have to welcome the introduction of another armed power into their region?  It would also be surprising if Palestinians, Kurds, or others national groups who lack both territory and sovereignty do not raise some objection to the justice of granting sovereignty to a seastead with little of the cultural, political, and social identity that marks a nation, while they themselves remain disenfranchised.   If a seastead wants admission to the club of nation-states, they will likely need to explain how the club will benefit by their membership.  While not insuperable, this will be a high bar to reach.

 

CDR Doyle Hodges is a Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy. He has commanded a rescue and salvage ship in the Pacific and a destroyer in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Middle East.  He is the Chairman of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Seamanship and Navigation 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, the U.S. Navy, or the U.S. Naval Academy.

 


[1] For a good discussion of the challenges of statehood without nationhood, see Lemay-Hébert, N., 2009, ‘Statebuilding without Nation-building? Legitimacy, State Failure and the Limits of the Institutionalist Approach’, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding’, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 21-45.  For a good discussion of the necessary components of nationhood see Anderson, Benedict Imagined Communities.  New York: Verso. 2006.